Originally posted on 8/14/2009; original title, “Travis Benson.”
the story of how we became so sad
began on that infamous night
when the world watched
the first-ever stream
of live images
from inside the mind
of one travis benson,
who had managed
to insert leads into his brain
that had been tuned
to a frequency of light
the visual display and broadcast
of his thoughts.
before that day, travis
was a virtual unknown
who labored in a basement
in some undetermined city
to bring his vision to fruition.
at first only a handful of esoterically inclined
and wired aficionados
on the fuzzier edges of experimentation
had been aware of his work,
but certain governments
had sought him for some time.
in gray buildings
on the outskirts of capitals worldwide
geeks and goons stood ready
to track him down when he came on line,
as their masters imagined
a future bonanza for intelligence work
if the technique worked as rumored.
the possibilities, it was thought,
would be endless:
the passive voice of a spy’s mind
revealing all the intricacies of espionage,
the names and places
of deadly deceits and plotted assassinations…
had waited eagerly for this,
hoping to see
the threads of desire
exposed in the bright storm anticipated
in travis’ skull.
what possible masterworks
would be spawned
from the crannies of the genius
who had created this?
at 2315 GMT, travis benson’s mind
screens went dark all over the world.
at first, the images were confusing:
a forest of eyes. a field of small birds
feeding on germs. a city
where the streets are paved
with children’s bones.
an immense fall of leaden water
salted with the hearts of mice.
as the viewers — millions of them,
billions perhaps —
began to sort through
what they were seeing,
the images on the screen begin to shift
into a story of disjoint and ripple,
and leftover resentments.
in india, there were those who swore
they saw kali charming them;
american racists saw nothing but black teeth
gnawing the arms of white women;
a businessman in caracas
imagined himself in the grip
of apes with scimitars.
a child in new york city
ran screaming to her mother
demanding that new doll,
the popular doll,
the one she saw on TV,
the one that pounded and fretted
while calling the child’s name.
for some proof of the divine, was startled
when jesus appeared
wearing a wedding ring.
countries lost their nationalism, their memories
of past wrong and glory; companies
had no secrets and no marketing left to give;
and although everyone turned the broadcast off
at the same time, the damage was done.
the world had taken his dreams
and lost their own.
though no one saw what anyone else saw,
everyone knew their pasts were over and done,
subsumed in the wave that had surged
from travis benson’s head.
travis benson destroyed his machine
that night and vanished,
became a villain and a curse,
something to scare children with.
they hunted him then as they hunt him now.
memory till that night
was a creature of habit.
dreams were its only food
and it fed in the same places
and it would have done so forever
as it always had
if nothing had changed,
but something has changed,
our trust in the frequency of light.
our belief in our own lightness.
we cannot forgive
what we cannot forget
and we cannot forget
how we all tuned in to watch.