An Excerpt from “Franklinstein” by Sue Landers




Poetry, Prose


 


Photo credit: C.E. Putnam
Photo credit: C.E. Putnam

 

Sue Landers’ latest book, Franklinstein, is a hybrid genre collection of poetry and prose that tells the story of one Philadelphia neighborhood, Germantown—a historic, beloved place, wrestling with legacies of colonialism, racism, and capitalism. The book draws from interviews, historical research, and two divergent but quintessential American texts: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans.

Allison Cobb of Jacket2 calls Franklinstein “a beautifully layered book, steeped in complexity, relationship, and connection.”

 

To Fill Up a Place When Someone Has Lost Out of Them a Piece

 

The pleasure of a ruin [is] to reconstruct in the mind’s eye the structure

in its original state. The better one [understands] the ruin,

the better the imaginative reconstruction.

—M.W. Thompson, Ruins: Their Preservation and Display

 

The Franklin Exchange was a phone bank,

a bank of princess phones

arranged in a basement

that visitors could dial

for the purpose of retrieving

recordings of famous people

remarking on Benjamin Franklin.

 

I want to say Gertrude Stein was there

with a Paris exchange that

would take a while to dial,

but her presence is my bad

memory, a transposing

with George Sand whose voice

over the phone told us

Franklin made her cry.

 

It was always 1976

at the Benjamin Franklin Underground Experience

and I was a Philadelphian

lively in the feeling of loving

standing with my father

who would be dead

in three years

but I didn’t know that then,

it was just 1976.

 

Let’s call this my earliest memory.

 

The experience was a museum

under a ghost house, a skeleton,

where Franklin’s house

had stood before it was razed.

The ghost house, the skeleton

in the shape of a house for which

few records remained,

intended to remind visitors

of the limits of historical knowledge.

They said it was no use

trying to reproduce Franklin’s house.

The records were too few, they were

outnumbered by memories.

So let’s create a museum instead,

underground and accessible via a ramp,

a red ramp to invoke a colonial road,

which would allow visitors to descend

into the foundation of what had been

Franklin’s house. And a hall of mirrors.

Mirrors adorned with neon lights spelling out

Franklin’s various selves. Mirrors

and their neon lights designed

to inspire visitors to reflect

on our own various selves.

 

IT WAS 1976 IN PHILADELPHIA

AND WE WERE ALL BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

 

The experience would become a time capsule

in museum practice.

Decades later, they said,

the museum did not contribute

to the historical significance of the site,

not in the same way that the ghost house did,

so it would be dismantled

down to its skeleton

upon which a new body

would be built

under the skeleton

of the house that remains

today significant

in its inadequacy.