Saturday, January 11, 2014



[Mary]: by J. Hope Stein
(Hyacinth Girl Press, Pittsburgh, PA, 2012)

Laughter and Silence in Part III of the Inventor's Last Breath

In J. Hope Stein’s third installment of a three part series loosely based on the life of Thomas Edison, a dream woman asks her inventor, “What do you want?” (2). Edison’s answer is more than light bulbs, more than motion pictures, more than telegraphs, electric chairs, or electrocution. It’s worth more than sound or light. Stein tells us it’s a woman’s “laughter” in the poem “The Inventor Dreams of a Woman” in her newest collection [Mary]: (2).

Mary is not a dream or an invention. She’s a real life talking doll and not the invented talking doll in [Talking Doll], Stein’s other collection of poetry released in 2012 from Dancing Girl Press. But she’s a wife who has trouble being heard. The inventor asks, “What’s that, girl? I can barely hear you … come closer” (6) and “Your voice—so quiet I will have to crawl inside your mouth. What’s your name, girl?” (9). Her answer is “Mary Stillwell” the first moment of her agency in the chapbook because when she speaks she is heard, though this is already after she’s felt his “monster” (7) and after the dream where the inventor “purpled her neck/ with the suction his mouth” trying every tickle and touch, and even a command to “close your eyes,” to make her laugh (2-3). She does eventually laugh and “laughed until she was a woman” (3) and she does by the end of part one of [Mary]: marry the man, learning how much desire and creation are linked for him. As Stein writes, “His penis still glazed & erotic– This is when Thomas gets his most enormous ideas!” (12).

Ideas and invention are a central probing question in [Mary]: as Stein ponders the ways the representation of things can become the more real thing than the thing itself. In [Mary]: Mary says, “(The first time I saw a light bulb I walked outside in my dressing gown & looked at the sun as though it were less like a sun & more like an artist’s idea of sun)” (12) and “(The first time I heard a phonograph I went outside in my bathing suit & listened to the birds as though they were less like birds & more like a painter’s idea of sound) (19). Such made poems on representation and invention call into question the reality of things and points to their made-ness. In [Mary]: everything—light, sound, electricity, laughter—becomes a made thing, something invented, something with some desire bound inventor behind it.

There is a course a little woman behind the man in [Mary]:, as much as we are “only a conglomerate of tiny men who work in the factory of our bodies” and who “exit through the open windows of our mouth” during “our final breaths” (23). Men are made of tiny men in [Mary]: and women, or at least Mary, is made of meridians, chisels, and golden hair, an invention that would make a man want to “make a cocktail of her” (8). This cocktail is a phonographic proposal and a marriage where the little woman does the dishes (11), finds missing socks and underwear (11), and helps her husband when his fly is down in public (17). Stein writes, “It will be our secret” because “this is what it means,/ to be a young wife” (17). Wives through time, of course, are concerned with desire, cooking chicken correctly, and appearances (18). In the second of three poems titled “Invention of the Light Bulbs” readers alongside Mary watch a woman “with a talent for eye pencil and shadow” who changes the appearance of her face daily, like a time lapsed motion picture (18). But even so, women do marry for a reason, or Mary does anyway in [Mary]:. In the second of two poems titled “Invention of Motion Pictures” Mary tells the inventor “I married you husband/ because you’re a goof and a decent man” (26). The inventor, alas by end of the chapbook, is the one who has trouble being heard and taps out on Mary’s wrist a string of dots, dashes, and slash marks. By today’s and Stein’s standards, Mary has the last word and the last laugh.


Laura Madeline Wiseman has a doctorate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she teaches English and creative writing. She is the author of seven collections of poetry, including the full-length book Sprung (San Francisco Bay Press, 2012) the letterpress books Unclose the Door (Gold Quoin Press, 2012) and Farm Hands (Gold Quoin Press, 2012), and the chapbooks She Who Loves Her Father (Dancing Girl Press, 2012), Branding Girls (Finishing Line Press, 2011), Ghost Girl (Pudding House Publications, 2010), and My Imaginary (Dancing Girl Press, 2010). She is also the editor of Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013). Her writings have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Margie, Arts & Letters, Poet Lore, and Feminist Studies. She has received honors from the Academy of American Poets and the Wurlitzer Foundation.

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