Collier Brown


I. Alexander Graham Bell & the Preoccupation

By noon, the winds fail. The lull
will mean experiments like this
will have to wait. We'll have our tea
and talk of nothing, just to pass

the time. I'll say, I know exactly
what you mean. But I am here
and not here too. I see outside
a shape that's missing from the air

that is my shape, or my misuse
of sight, since nothing like a world
appears. There's just a kite. I mean
for me, there's nothing as controlled

or real. Dreams, you say. Yes, and strong.
You think I'm lost. You are not wrong. 

II. Alexander Graham Bell & the Lost Design 

When I dream of this, I'm not the age
I am today. We're in our teens.
It's science class. We've made a crate
to keep an egg from spattered scenes

of yolk and shell. You said four sides
can withstand drops from any tower.
What would it have mattered, true
or not, if every unfilled hour

meant an hour more for us? We could
not know that I would still have time
and you, a sum to count by days,
that days would lift us to their rim:

me, in a gift you gave to last
the fall; you, unbroken in the past.


III. Alexander Graham Bell & His Circle

My friends, watch this. I've taken all
the time I've ever wasted—time
I can't get back, years I've spent
in basements or in books, daydream

or in sleep, hours lost in nowheres,
circumnavigating circles
like all the other rocks around
the sun—and made a kite. Cycles

like the life I lead, and like the ones
you live—let's face it—link themselves
with boredoms far too terrible
to list. And yes, it all revolves

in emptiness, but dignified
when we're together. Watch it glide.


IV. Alexander Graham Bell & the Paper Bird

I'm no good at this. I understand
that motion, any kind, involves
a balance: one left foot to land
where the right foot was. What solves

the problem of the two not going
forward—this is what I mean—
is getting rid of here and now.
So what? you say. Haven't there been

a million nows, a million heres?
It's true. I wish I weren't afraid.
But after all, you think we're like
two wings, a paper bird we made

together. If you're right, and we are,
how long can we possibly glide, how far? 


V. Alexander Graham Bell & the Solution

But that's the thing, you think you've got
the end all figured out: what time
you need to spend with X, how much
you need to do for Y. Assume

commitment to the work itself
will be enough to keep disaster
in its cask. For relationships to last,
say B. To pay down debt, master

C. In all of the above, show love
by adding one more job per day.
Swallow H for sleep. For anxiety,
take I. Alone? Depressed? Drink J.

 Someday, your kite will reach the air. 
If, by then, you even care.


VI. Alexander Graham Bell & the Winged Boat

After the experiments, the years
spent tying and retying thread
to stones, anchoring your efforts
where you could, awake in bed

all hours, dreaming of a cloud
above a trigonometry
of geese, you think at last, Enough.
And here, beneath night's rectory

of stars, dead though they may be
and meaningless and far, and no
keeper of love's paradise, you trade
your kite for a poor man's boat, row

or blindly drift.
                             Dear angels, wish
us well, we fools and flying fish.





Alexander Graham Bell wasn't just interested in transmitting sound over the air. He dreamed of humans taking to the air too. Between 1903 and 1909, he designed and tested enormous kites, strengthened by grids of elegant tetrahedral (pyramid) cells. The journals he kept during this period are illustrated with photographs of Bell and his colleagues, sometimes assembling the kites, sometimes hoisting them upwards, sometimes bracing for disaster. The journals can be viewed on [the Library of Congress website].

The photographs inspired my sonnet sequence not because the famous telephone man features in them but because I feel the kite-maker's obsession in myself. We all experience some form of it: the impulse to button our coats, straighten our ties, and set about the doomed business of making something beautiful. I chose the sonnet to match that sentiment and wrote the lines in tetrameter in admiration of Bell's own tetrahedral arrangements.