Adam O. Davis

Winner of the George Bogin Memorial Award in 2016

The Bell System

Goodnight—Mary, Jane, Pat.
Sleep tight, you sweet operators

of America, your voices strung
like laundry across this nation

drowsy with a full century's-worth
of light. There's nothing you

can't tell me that I haven't already
heard gift-wrapped in your General

American grace, but still I wonder
in what chamber of a horse's ant-

eaten skull I'll recover my youth.
Our human garden grows rich

in these green suburbs and what I feel
is not so much loss as a lessening,

as if the self was nothing more
than a late-model sedan crossing

the city limit in search of a better
resale value. It's funny, this franchise

of molecules that fizzes up in each
of us, like motels viral along the interstate:

some full while others flicker and die.
When will the stars rain down

like cheap plaster? When will language
be little more than a dandruff shaken

from our heads? Ladies, you tell me
the number I've been calling has been

disconnected, but where did the person
it belonged to go? Alone on the line

I find only a prairie alive with funneled
wind, a nation heavy with wheat and light,

its chorus of dim voices locked in a kind
of pharmaceutical sleep. I find a system

unchanged, charged with electrical pulses
that send the receiver scurrying in their cradle,

the longhand breath of ghosts rising
through 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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Eduardo Corral on Adam O. Davis

The craft and imagination on display in these poems is impressive—I kept returning to them as I read and sorted many poems. The imagery is surprising and apt, which can be hard to pull off. Men with slot machine heads have coins for eyes. Oregon Trail pioneers dance "like leaden bees under/ a fiddle's moan." Tight and propulsive language ensnares the reader. Time and again I was pulled in, kept close to the collisions between the self and the passage of time which populate the poems. In "The Bell System" the speaker dials a phone number only to discover it's been disconnected. The poem is an homage to phone operators and a glimpse into the way technologies diminish our capacity to engage with others and with ourselves. Nostalgia is "a ghost / idling on the edge" of these poems, yes. But something more interesting and complex than nostalgia is also at play. By using precise and startling language to remember, the poet imbues the past with the pulse of the now. The past and the present intersect. The beauty of the language also engenders intimacy. The reader easily steps into the text. The wonderful imagination of this poet reminds us the mind—lyric space—is an astonishing nexus.

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