The Bell System

Adam O. Davis

Goodnight—Mary, Jane, Pat.Sleep tight, you sweet operatorsof America, your voices strunglike laundry across this nationdrowsy with a full century's worthof light. There's nothing youcan't tell me that I haven't alreadyheard gift-wrapped in your GeneralAmerican grace, but still I wonderin what chamber of a horse's ant-eaten skull I'll recover my youth.Our human garden grows richin these green suburbs and what I feelis not so much loss as a lessening,as if the self was nothing morethan a late-model sedan crossingthe city limit in search of a betterresale value. It's funny, this franchiseof molecules that fizzes up in eachof us, like motels viral along the interstate:some full while others flicker and die.When will the stars rain downlike cheap plaster? When will languagebe little more than a dandruff shakenfrom our heads? Ladies, you tell methe number I've been calling has beendisconnected, but where did the personit belonged to go? Alone on the lineI find only a prairie alive with funneledwind, a nation heavy with wheat and light,its chorus of dim voices locked in a kindof pharmaceutical sleep. I find a systemunchanged, charged with electrical pulsesthat send the receiver scurrying in its cradle,the longhand breath of ghosts risingthrough switchboards to ask Who's there?Well, tell me. Who is there? Who goes?Ladies, please wake up. I want to try again.

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Adam O. Davis is the author of Index of Haunted Houses (Sarabande, 2020), winner of the Kathryn A. Morton Poetry Prize. His work has appeared widely in journals and anthologies, including The Believer, The Best American Poetry 2021, The Paris Review, Prairie Schooner, The Southern Review, and ZYZZYVA. The recipient of the 2016 George Bogin Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, he lives in San Diego, California, where he teaches English literature at The Bishop’s School.

"From ‘the body of New Jersey’ to ‘the desert/like a house of belief,’ the poems of Index of Haunted Houses traverse the entirety of time and space that we call American. In this book, Adam O. Davis means for language as precise as ‘ledgers lavish with loss,’ to lead us to the place within us where history meets landscape. This is a brilliant debut."
—Jericho Brown

"Adam O. Davis has written a brilliant book about our ghosts—personal, political, mythic, lyrical, and yet very real. He documents and chronicles the musics of the unsaid, melodies unheard. There is America in these pages and there is also childhood, parenthood, a rhythm and nuance of being. I love this music."
—Ilya Kaminsky

"The reader finds herself in America’s afterlife, with Ma Bell’s pre-automation telephone operators. This is the elegant lyricism of ‘too late,’ calling ‘Ladies please wake up. I want to try again.’"
—Rae Armantrout

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