Confessions of a Reading Machine

The New Republic

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POETRY SEPTEMBER 11, 2013

Confessions of a Reading Machine

I, Number Three Plus Four Divided By Seven,
am renowned for my vast linguistic knowledge.
I now recognize thousands of languages
employed by extinct people
in their histories.

Everything that they recorded with their signs,
even when crushed beneath layers of disasters,
I extract, reconstruct
in its original form.

Not to boast,
but I even read lava
and scan ashes.

I explain on a screen
each object mentioned,
when it was produced,
and what from, and what for.

And solely on my own initiative,
I peruse the occasional letter
and correct its
spelling errors.

I admit—certain words
do cause me difficulty.
For example I still cannot explain precisely
the states called “feelings.”

Likewise “soul,” a peculiar expression.
I’ve determined for now that it is a kind of fog
purportedly more lasting than mortal organisms.

But the word “am” gives me the most trouble.
It appears to be an ordinary function,
conducted daily, but not collectively,
in the present prehistoric tense,
specifically, in the continuous,
although as we know discontinued long ago.

But will this do for a definition?
I feel rumbling in my linkages and grinding of my screws.
My button to Head Office smokes but won’t light up.

Perhaps my pal Two Fifths Of Zero Fractured By Half
might provide some brotherly assistance.
True, he’s a known lunatic,
but he’s got ideas.

Translated by Clare Cavanagh.

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