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Poetry

Audio: Read by the author.

 

I do not know you, but I know I send
preemptively, barely having started,
slip away from chirps and faces—pretend
e-life—and should, dragged and dropped this far, shed
these testaments, coded as policy,
so not to take the Old Town for my head-
quarters, converge forces to Liberty,
don’t know why I defend (my god) so hard,
it’s not for love, or place, or history,
but I do, I sometimes take things too far.

And because I’m a taker by nature,
I am suspicious, exhausted, on guard
against tax refunds, friendships, erasures,
the line that all the lives we’ve lost were good
men, they had families, and whatever
music helps me remember what it would
have been like to be a child, what is still
hardly the same as having a childhood,
a game that, albeit not digital,
is interactive—over, not played out.

This command line does nothing to dispel
my fear of the Program, animal doubt
that a hermeticum could state its aim,
or else, as haunting, know what it’s about—
access denied—a bell whose brightest shame
is the medusa it feels with each wave,
its silent strands too terrible to name
or perhaps too enigmatic to save,
Napoleonic sovereignties that write
to tell me not to bathe, so I won’t bathe.

The Program expresses a deficit,
not desire per se, but a need to drive
like my kids live here, the autopilot
within telling me, or told from the hive,
not to mind the buzz, for I want, and don’t,
to be a part of everything I love,
the wave, the drift, the familiar tone,
the sincere distance in which I, quaking,
see a god metaphor taking me home
and demanding thanks for all it’s taking.

So the future might speak of us as more
than our forever prisoners and kings,
confusion over what a name is for
prompting some to drop letters from a word,
efface themselves (there is no I in Lord),
and focus on the ballrooms we preferred,
fathers dancing like something they once read
about, though it’s not the music I heard
yesterday, it’s here, no one ever said
this would be the music of tomorrow.

While I watch and wait for the page to load,
observe the grand mal election, borrow
time from a future always listening
in on our calls and responses (anno-
dominated models that hiss and sing,
self-contained and Isis-knotted, i.e.
a worship-worthy Koopa King of Kings),
it is not the pod that, walk-manning, we
hold fast to, the pod surrounds us, says, “No
way, no way to the father but through me.”

But I jumped those platforms ages ago,
scrolled through others, almost bought, didn’t buy
what most of them were selling, magic or mo-
ney, pedestrians talking on the fly,
to the air, on the go, while I wanted
not to want, without any loss of I,
an image arrested and remanded,
the voice converted into microtones
and transmitted, lossless, compressed, granted,
no atoning for, no one to atone.

Instead I find our networks look like us,
if I have trouble signing in, or on,
it plays into the game when I request,
iteratively, the same computer
to remind me what my password is,
like begging mercy of a predator,
the bird eats the bee, the bee stings the bird,
the syntax of stones requires no error,
the world has big plans and won’t say a word
unless the interrogation’s enhanced.

With apostrophe, the silence I’ve heard
met by leaving-out, little left to chance,
the script allowing limited contracts
between zeroes and ones, space and time, tense
swarms (though once, stung on the mouth, I stung back),
and somewhere in between, the private way,
as I whisper the queen’s name my voice cracks
awesomely, or else, nothing left to say,
I take the credit, opt to level up
and out, beat the game, keep myself in play.

Which might mean, I like to think, to usurp
my instincts, to cultivate compassion
for our worst, to activate an inert
insurgency within, over Jordan,
when, outscored in the present’s future past,
I no longer hear any discord in
God demanding that we worship Him as
a god, the false choice between death and fun—
electric chair, electric chair—is stress,
so you shouldn’t try His hand with rest. Run.

 

 

 


Benjamin Paloff is the author of the poetry collections And His Orchestra and The Politics, both from Carnegie Mellon. Twice a fellow of the NEA, his recent poems have appeared in Conduit, Interim, New York Review of Books, and elsewhere.

 

 

 

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