As we walked along the hall the clerk said,
You look a little green around the gills.
That must have been some party last night.
And then she stopped, her destination reached.
She released her grip and my arm gave pop
And jerked suddenly free of its socket joint
Like a tooth whose roots have rotted away.
My arm slipped down my shirt sleeve and fell
To hit the hallway floor with muted thud
And roll a short distance across the glass.
It's okay, I said weakly, a prosthetic.
But she'd already turned away to go.
I saw now I stood before a machine,
A standard issue photocopier.
After I heard her clicking step recede
I took my fallen arm and looked around
And found one unlocked door nearby.
I tossed my arm into the space inside
To join sponge mops, brooms, bottles of bleach,
And pails of ammonia-based glass cleaner.
So, an arm gone. This was, I suppose,
Preparation for a left wing to sprout,
A divestment of flesh preliminary
To your penultimate metamorphosis.
Did you, at least, remember to retrieve,
Inquired Marguerite, your wristwatch first?
I closed the door on that part of my past
And then turned back to study the machine
Which, to my eye, appeared in perfect health.
The power lamp was on, toner okay,
The paper path free of obstructing jams.
Reams of paper were stacked inside their bins,
Ready to catch legal-sized memories.
This fact brought profound disappointment,
For you'd think a proper photocopier,
Made fully and truly automatic,
Would hide a pulp and paper mill inside
That once a month you feed a presto log
It chips, chews up, and stews into stuff
That just files itself away in drawers.
The world, I fear, is not the best possible,
A lower-priced model, not the deluxe.
The back panel, I found, came right off
To reveal the mysterious electronics:
Circuit boards, flat chips and bundled wires,
The usual, secret, black box innards
Of a recent vintage digital device.
I had no clue what any of it meant,
Knew only it all had some meaning.
All here had meaning but meant nothing,
All except for a pair of dust bunnies
That stirred unhappily on sudden air,
That I mistook briefly for meddling djinn.
But then my second sight began to work,
Slowly at first, to expose hot logic,
The network of nerves, pathways of fire,
The thin channels that circulated sparks.
It's dark, at first, inside this machine,
But gradually sight becomes accustomed
To the ozone glow of crouching demons,
Each captive in a zinc enneagram,
And one is a governor and one a power,
One a throne, one a principality,
And each is a blue-glowing vacuum tube
Deranged by intense acid pulsing hate,
Spell-driven by black, backwards Latin.
And what are these tiny worms, these snakes?
Condensers and capacitors and resistors
Are each coded with nine stripes of colour;
They spell out, permuted, the secret name,
That name that hums along, hums itself
From nexus to plexus, plexus to nexus,
And changes as it grows, grows as it changes.
A thousand gypsy glyphs litter the floor,
Letter the walls and lift up from rafters.
They scatter as I step, flutter like moths.
I breathe dust, cobwebs, rotted linen.
And I tred with an extreme trepidation.
You must not meet a demon's bare gaze,
Those two embers, those cayenne peppers.
They see only weakness, only darkness,
Sinners impaled on stalagmites of guilt
And zombies shambling back from coffee breaks.
Remove this screw and your warranty's void.
Why kill the goose that lays golden eggs?
Abandon hope, ye with the screwdriver,
For there are no user-serviceable parts.
Hey! Stop it! Don't touch me there, ever!
And there it was, the problem, the sore spot,
Diseased tissue needing quick removal.
Second sight clicked off and the first on.
I found myself staring at a black chip,
At a familiar flat black rectangle
Affixed by pins to printed circuit board.
It looked much like the one in my pocket.
Liber Jonae Contents