Carrie Shipers: "Edison's Talking Doll"




Her body—six pieces of perforated tin shaped

by dies and presses, crank sticking out of her back—

was hard to hold, but Edison loved his four-pound

darling, imagined one in every home.  Inside

the assembly rooms: papier-mâché hands and feet,

wooden limbs, bisque heads made in Germany—

glass eyes, lips parted around pointed teeth. 

Sweet-voiced girls recording rhymes about sheep

and pails of water on cylinders that carried sound.

Invoices for rubber tubing, celluloid, asbestos board

and dental plaster.  At the end of 1890: 7,557

unsold dolls.  Those who did find homes often

returned for repair: Her voice is too shy to hear.

She stutters but doesn’t talk.  Please teach her how. 

In 1891 the works were disassembled, floor space



                    Naked, with untidy hair, a single doll

survives in Edison’s museum, but she won’t talk

about her sisters.  Rumors suggested massacre,

mass graves on factory grounds, but metal detectors

have found no trace of steel or tin.  Imagine

thousands of dolls methodically dismembered—

arms, heads, and hands returned to their makers—

and disemboweled—phonographs removed, torsos

consigned to the crucible.  Imagine the great man

mourning what he’d made but couldn’t sustain.


Carrie Shipers is the author of two chapbooks, Ghost-Writing (Pudding House Press, 2007) and Rescue Conditions (Slipstream Press, 2008), as well as a full-length collection, Ordinary Mourning (ABZ Press, 2010). Her poetry has appeared in North American Review, Crab Orchard Review, Connecticut Review, Hayden's Ferry Review, and Antigonish Review, among other journals.