On Technological Marvels

[audio link]

Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.
—W. H. Auden, "September 1, 1939"

We too could stack the shoes of our dead and fill a city
to its thirteenth floor
—Sherman Alexie, "Inside Dachau"

As mechanical calculating-looms seamlessly
riffled their concatenations of lacy cards,
and humans again became willing acolytes
serving greater purposes whose vanishing
points they could only infer, the industrial age
morphed into modern militarism. Coal-tar dyes
faded; corroded clockwork ground to a halt.
What was sold as authentic absinthe in secret
hells turned out to be merely methyl spirits
adulterated with Scheele’s green. Blooming
with ears and eyes, walls rose around us.
Shrapnel-shredded leaves and their hectic
shadows became puddles on pale pages,
evanescing to leave only ghostly testimony.
Like gray vultures, plenipotentiaries circled
beneath the looming admonition of fission.
In less than a decade, genomes and cultures
divested themselves of irreplaceable content
as if black holes had opened up for business
in continent after continent. Agriculture
poised itself to climb out of eroded gullies
and bomb craters, to furnish endless bales
of bland consumption. We never realized,
because we failed to reflect, that we were
not looking through windows into the past
or future, but into mirrors.

F. J. Bergmann