Reflections on Espionage, part 2

Reflections on Espionage, part 2 

Continuing yesterday’s post on the text of my song cycle Reflections on Espionage, which I will perform in a new version for voice and string quartet on the Imaginary Timescapes concert…Now for the poem that the poet himself didn’t think of as musical (I beg to differ), as well as the final and strangest poem of the cycle:

Cupcake: The Enciphering

Cupcake to Image: this new frequency is
Better I think for our little transmissions
And certainly free for use at the hour I
Am accustomed to using. The cipher, of
Course, remains the same old eleven-matrix.
Today at sending time my wrist just under
My watch was itching and burning as if it
Were keeping some canonical time other
Than what my watch recorded, as if it were
Ringing some pre-set alarm. I reached home in
Time to find the new frequency clear and I
Started a rapid encipherment of this
Small message, noticing how easily now
My plain text goes into a cipher like this,
So familiar with long use that I wonder
From time to time if it can still be secure.
It has a natural plainness of its own
By now. And yet I cling to it, thinking how
At any moment we might have to scrap it.
Agents should not have pets, nor grow fond of their
Ciphers: one-time pads, anonymous bedmates,
Momentarily adopted ladybugs—
These are for us, I should think, in the long run.

Velvet: The Bombing

Do well by the project. Nothing lies beyond
But madness, the incapacitating chill
Of madness. Who are “We?” Who “They”?—Neatly
Printed capitals at the heads of the ruled
Columns on my grandmother’s bridge-scoring pads.
The names had for me as a child an order,
A mystery, quite apart from the way those
Curt pronouns were used in life. “We”, then, and “They”—

The paired purposes—ours and theirs—are themselves
Matched in a gimcrack tournament whose rules are
Revised bi-monthly by a board of macaques.
Do well by the project. Nothing lies beyond.

“We” and “They”: The Eastern Theys, the Western We’s,
Two franchised teams play professional eyeball,
And if we play well, where else is the good life?

Purpose is sickening. The work would suffer.
If there were justifications for it, how
Could one bomb anything? or cause bystanders’
Limbs to sail across the street, landing with a
Wet thud at one’s feet, if one were so fatuous
As to feel that this price were paid for something.
A clearly-broken, gaily emptied egg is
All that the golden word omlette can mean.

History who would be your judge is hardly
Even a nightmare—it is something you ate.

—John Hollander

Who is John Hollander? You can read about this “formidable presence in American literary life,” the poet, critic and distinguished professor whom I never came across at Yale, here:

(Originally posted Nov 29th, 2012 at 10:14 AM EST)


Like the John Hollander quote. Perfect ending!

By Rochelle Shapiro Nov 29th, 2012 at 11:58 AM EST



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