It was on this day in 1876 that Alexander Graham Bell received patent No. 174,465 for the telephone. He filed for his patent on the same day as a Chicago electrician named Elisha Gray filed for a patent on basically the same device. Bell only beat Gray by two hours. Bell offered to sell his patent to Western Union for $100,000, but Western Union turned him down.
In honor of this event, an old poem of mine:
"Mr. Watson, come here. I want you."
--first words spoken via telephone
Alexander Bell, working fiercely in the lab,
spilled acid on himself that day.
There was something about invention
and necessity, and his words crackled out
into another room, thin and urgent,
carried through air into a moment
when everything changed.
Why then do we always wait
until that last panicked moment
to shout out what we need? We build
the devices, thin glowing wires,
lay the paths to carry signals
from lips to distant ear,
set up elaborate inventions
of intention, plot the ways to speak
our need, then let the creation sit
while we fiddle with one toggle or the next
never testing it by giving voice -- but
finally the burning
becomes too much to bear, impulsively
we grab the wires and cross the distance
with what we know, once said,
is true. Desire crackles out
into another room. Come here.
I want you.
published in New Zoo Poetry Review, 1998
and in A Linen Weave of Bloomington Poets, ed. by Jenny Kander (Lexington, KY: Wind, 2002)