How Many Poets Does It Take to Change a Light Bulb? 12. Longfellow

Come listen, my children, for I’ve begun
The tale of Thomas Edison.
He had a staff of eighty men,[1]
Took credit for work done by them.
He paid them squat, he called them muckers,
And, every minute, hired a sucker.

Amongst the things his team invented
Were light bulbs, tungsten filamented.
(There were electric lights in use,
But few that could be mass produced.)
They’d tried with other kinds of wick,
But all of those burned out too quick:
Coconut fiber, fishing line,
Tendrils from a kudzu vine,
Baywood, boxwood, hickory,
Cedar, cheddar, chicory,
Bamboo, and even human hair,[2]
Until someone thought to suck out the air,
And with a vacuum, cased in glass,
Changed the world from candles to light bulbs, en masse.

[1]The number of “muckers” working for Thomas Edison varied, and was occasionally as many as 200.

[2]Edison’s lab tested thousands of fibers, including most of those listed. I did not find specific reference to chicory or kudzu, although neither is implausible. It is unlikely they used any type of cheese.


The Red-Eye Flight of Paul Revere

“Our army manned the air, it rammed the ramparts, it took over the airports.”
[From a recent presidential account of the American Revolution]


Listen, my children, and you will hear

Of the red-eye flight of Paul Revere.

On a humid, hot, and sticky night,

Having shown up two hours before his flight,

He had to get to Gate C9

After spending an hour and a half in line.

He said, “Hardly anyone still alive

Would rather go through this than drive.”

Only when he reached the font of the crowd

Did he learn how many bags were allowed:

“One if by land, two if by sea,

But you’re going by air, so there is a small fee.”

So he paid the fee and checked his bags,

And the baggage clerk affixed the tags.


But before he could be on his way,

He had to pass the TSA,

Who made him take off his belt and shoes

And his tricorn hat before he went through,

But still the metal detector buzzed

And he had to deal with the rent-a-fuzz,

Who said to him, “Now listen here, sport,

Who wears brass buttons to the airport?”


They took him to chamber where

They stripped him to his underwear,

And inch by inch, with latexed hand

Confirmed he had no contraband.

They let him go, in Concourse C

The clock on the wall read 12:03.


To make his flight, he would have to run

Past the Starbucks and the Cinnabon,

And zip right past the Chik-Fil-A

(not that he ate there anyway),

Past the Dairy Queen, the Burger King,

The Buffalo with Wild Wings,

The newsstand and the duty-free,

The shoeshine and the Mickey D’s

The T.G.I. Friday’s, the P.F. Chang,

The V.I.P. Club, the Sturm & Drang’s

The Taco Bell, the Einstein Brothers,

The Jamba Juice…and many others.


And when he reached his gate at last

And handed over his boarding pass

His breath was short; his shirt was wet,

And all his body soaked in sweat;

His coat was torn, his cravat askew,

And the sole was flopping off one shoe.

A woman standing at the gate

Explained, “You’re nearly an hour late.”


“So I missed my flight?” he asked. “What? No—

We just started boarding the first five rows.”

So he waited in line, and he shuffled his feet

And finally boarded, and took his seat

In front of a boy with spiked blond hair

Who kicked the seat all the way to O’Hare.