Chasing Ghosts: Excerpt of Jennifer Faylor’s ‘Edison’s Ghost Machine’

Jennifer Faylor

New York City-based poet Jennifer Faylor lands in Portland this week, reading poetry from her latest collection of work Edison’s Ghost Machine. The compilation of poems details the process of one man’s grief over the loss of his lover, Alice. As part of the process he concocts a machine that speaks to ghosts, much like the invention Thomas Edison was rumored to have attempted. With a storyline that moves beyond the here and now to the afterlife, Faylor’s poetry tackles spirituality and science in equal measure.

Faylor, who has her MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College, has two upcoming reading events in Portland. The poet participates in the Show and Tell Gallery hosted by Three Friends Coffeehouse (201 SE 12th Ave.) on Monday, Oct. 13 at 7 p.m., and reads at the Independent Publishing Resource Center (1001 SE Division St.) the following day, Oct. 14, at 7 p.m. Edison’s Ghost Machine is published by Aldrich Press.

An excerpt of Edison’s Ghost Machine:

Hindu Milk Miracle

The worshippers arrived in masses,
stretched from the temple for miles,

and blistered in September’s thick heat.
Their hands clutched the cheap metal spoons

that they would fill with milk,
and hold up to the mouth of Ganesha’s statue––

the god of obstacles, the god of beginnings.
All over India, for these few hours,

this mass hysteria continued.
Jugs of milk tipped wildly,

and bodies took on a second skin of milk film.
The white liquid leaked into the soil,

and squeaked across the temple’s marble floors.
Collective gasps spread like brush fire

across villages when the granite mouth of their idol
accepted their small offerings.

These worshippers had no idea
that this tumbling act of faith

would reach across oceans to me.
In my small apartment I sit in piles of grief,

but because of them, I rise to thrust fistfuls
of instant powdered milk out the window,

hoping that the sky would accept my offering too.

 

Starling Infestation

The city is concerned with how to handle
the bird infestation, but I am concerned
with how to keep the birds safe.
I enjoy the black clumps of their bodies
instead of clouds, and their frenzy––
they never stop, and they never leave.

I like to think that Alice is the general
in charge of this exquisite army of birds,
trying to spell out a message to me
with their wings. Her words collide
into street lamps, and leave
the sticky red stain of vowels.

I want the whole town to suffer
under the skyscrapers of grief I’m under.
I want them to feel the giant slabs of steel
rush against their back, until they are the single screw
bearing the weight of 80 floors. Even more,
I want them to wake in the middle of the night,
as her name fills their mouths like wads of cotton.

So, as the citizens form their plan of attack
on the starlings, I create my own opposite plan.
I teach each bird to speak her name, to screech
it as their mating call and their cry of hunger,
so that no one in this god damn town can sleep.
Her name will fill the air,
and drown out mid-winter’s howl.
Alice will fly through the sky –
a beautiful hiss. Alice.

 

Answering Machine

I take out the old machine where I keep her
voice. It’s the last message she’d left me.
She was running late, as usual,
and didn’t want me to wait out in the cold.

I press play and let her fill the room, her voice
like the pure white bell of a rescue boat. Then I crack
open the cassette, and unwind the shiny tape
to feel her between my fingers.

This chips away at the glacier of my body––
the immense cold that’s been getting larger each day.

People tell me it will get better,
but that it requires some effort on my part.
I’ve tried to kill the cold.
I wrap myself in heating blankets,
and even keep the radiator on full blast,
but it only hisses out her name.
It just makes the cold worse.

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