Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Saturday, October 27, 2007

"Wireless" Redux

I stumbled upon the following poem from the very early century just-past:

Wireless, by K.G. Martin [1904]

Wireless, meaningless, save that we know
that another man in a far away land
stands by the side of a gibbering spark,
punching his message into the dark.

Into the dark of a Summer's night,

and around the world and into the light

of our brilliant Winter day

speeds the vibrant, quivering ray.

And, caught in the web of sky-flung wires,
sinks to earth, chatters, expires;
but before it dies, skillful hands of man
have torn from its soul a Marconigram.


This poem fascinates in several ways. "Marconigram," a telegram named after the radio-inventor Marconi and apparently based on a telegraph-system he or those familiar with his work created, is a lovely portmanteau word. I think the last telegram I received was in about 1986. I had to drive down to a Greyhound bus-station (where there was a tiny Western Union office) to get it: cumbersome. I would much rather have driven down there for a Marconigram. (And now of course my mind drifts to the infamous "Candy-gram for Mongo" scene in Mel Brooks's Blazing Saddles.)

Also, I like the nice mixture of being impressed by the new technology and being underwhelmed by it. The new (in 1904) technology may be whiz-bang, but in the end, it results in . . . chatter. Chatter in, chatter out, regardless of what gizmo you're using.

Now, obviously, "wireless" refers neither to radio nor to telegrams, per se, but to telephonic gizmos that are equipped to bounce signals--billions a day, one supposes--off satellites and towers. I have no idea how this technology works, and I've written before here about my discomfort with cell-phones (mobile phones), which are far too small for my paws. Companies should have "Big and Tall" stores where one can buy phones to fit one's physical . . . um . . . style.

Here is a poem I wrote perhaps seven years ago, well before I stumbled upon the "Wireless" poem by K.G. Martin, for whom now I feel a kind of kinship. It's a bit uncanny that, without knowledge of the other or the other's poem, K.G. and I both chose three four-line stanzas. Of course, back then, he felt more pressure to use rhyme than I do, so I went with free verse. Neither of us is one hundred per cent enthusiastic about this new "wireless" technology. K.G., if you read this, call me, using your wireless phone. (What is Heaven's area code?) The poem (which for some unknown wireless reason the blog-program insists on putting in Italics--not my idea, but I can't fix it, and I even took the extraordinary step of looking at the Html code):

Truly, Madly, Cellularly

By portable telephones they trysted.
Their words raptured--caromed off
corporate satellites, descended bundled
in spongy static. Some sluiced through

optic fibers. Why not speak face to face?
Unmanageable: The lovers worried words
might disappear into Society so harried, sloppy,
huge. Words cleansed in space and digitized

might be exchanged like polished stones.
Sighs and whispers might be chastened.
The two did broadcast their love, but only to
the other; and were charged by the minute.


Copyright 2007 Hans Ostrom
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