I had been reading about the ancient literary collections in Latin and Greek called ‘paradoxographies,’ which were assemblages of brief notations of bizarre occurrences considered portentous, bewildering, wonderful, and strange: monstrous births, miraculous weather phenomena, astonishing reports of the barely believable but urgently interpretable events of the world. This poem came to me first through a series of urgent dreams: lines that later made their way into the poem reciting themselves insistently over and over until I woke up and scribbled them down. I found pages the next morning with strange paradoxical fragments and urgent pieces of prophecy and advice scribbled all over them, lines I had forgotten I had dreamed or written down, which seemed paradoxigraphical itself. The poem’s fragments of strangeness came out of those lines. This is the first poem for a manuscript I’m finishing called PARADOX DOXOLOGY that considers the strangenesses and wonders of the turn of the 21st century, from robot public service operators to genetic engineering to mood-altering neurosurgery: a ‘paradoxography’ for the new millennium. (Bruce Beasley)
Year’s End Paradoxography
Paradoxography: an ancient Roman and Greek literary genre, which consisted of compilations of events considered bizarre, inexplicable, wondrous, and portentous
If you’d like to talk to a live person, just say “live person,”
says the robot-voice on the Tivo Customer Service line.
Live person, I say.
—Hmmnn…I’m not sure I got that.
Would you like to talk with a live person, or continue working with me?
—No. Live person, please.
—Hmmnn…I’m still not sure I got that…
Because of the near
indistinguishability of 1 and l,
it kept saying: Enter the alphanumeric
or hexadecimal code,
it kept saying: To continue you must reenter the code.
Some assembly’s required. The wireless network’s
unsecured, its password
still unchanged from the default
password, its already-forgotten login either
Orthodox or paradox.
In passing it was mentioned that the dead
could be expected no longer to arise.
The witness said subpoena instead of penis, penis
instead of vagina.
Are there extralexical elements here, and if so, how are they to be written?
I always thought it went
Our Father which aren’t
in heaven, and sat
staring at His stained-glass throne, wondering
where instead He were.
The Very Reverend Metropolitan and Primate
has adjudicated the situation, and the liturgy’s
ancient reiterations have been stilled.
An alarming lack of catechesis has been fingered.
The gold-enameled garb is hung in a chancellery,
and the incense’s snuffer
Wait, the gas cap warns
until the hissing stops.
As cervix to vagina, so the Law’s
letter, to its spirit.
The siccative packet in a shoe box
read, unaccountably, Do not eat.
Although I have the confirmation code,
they said they could not use it to confirm
any of the particulars of my account.
He inserted his vagina into my subpoena.
Are there any further
the psychiatrist asked her,
listing while she sobbed.
In my words and in my deeds, in what I have done
and what I have failed to do.
Take, the medicine bottle advises,
En abyme, ad initio
In the beginning was the
She said oh for zero, she said
my set for her breasts and his package for her lovers’ genitalia.
He’d never really understood the difference
between contractions and possessives
but knew to call a doctor if contractions
came ten minutes apart.
He’d always secretly wondered why if is was
the present tense they always called it
the verb-to-be, as if it hadn’t yet arrived,
and if that was what led to all
What is this word decussate? This cross, this deca-, this 10, this
chi, this intersect, this eliminator, this ancient, formidable X?
The sung liturgy’s reiterant
in the mind: We who mystically
rep re sent
the che e e ru bim
now lay aside all earthly cares . . .
O terra infirma. The confirmation
code will confirm—
on earth or heaven—
Take, until distress subsides.
Until the difficulties,
one by one, subside.
I’m not sure I got
that: did that sign
say God is nowhere
or God is now here,
Because some days being feels
some voice inside the hissing
keeps saying to us (robotic, anachronistic): Reenter the code.
BRUCE BEASLEY is the author of six collections of poems, most recently The Corpse Flower: New and Selected Poems. He won the 1996 Colorado Prize, selected by Charles Wright, for Summer Mystagogia, and the University of Georgia Press Contemporary Poetry Award for Lord Brain in 2005. He has won three Pushcart Prizes, and his work is included in The Pushcart Book of Poetry: The Best Poems from the First Thirty Years of the Pushcart Prize. He teaches at Western Washington University in Bellingham.
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