(Poem) The Watcher and The Watched by Harriet Ann Ellenberger

for Susan Robinson 

I send a poem to my friend,
asking her, Do you think it is finished?
My poem speeds off to join internet traffic,
passing through the super-computers of US intelligence
before it reaches her.

If I call long-distance to read her my poem,
each word I say,
each word she says,
travels through the same computers.

This gives me an idea.

What do these super-computers do?
They scan for keywords selected by humans
following the daily threat assessment.

And what do poems do?
They tell the truth of human feeling.

What if the world of poets
scanned the news for probable keywords?
What if we scattered them liberally
throughout our poems and shared our poems
prodigally, far and wide—
would humans who answer to no one
be forced, by the exigencies of their job,
to read poetry?

Poets too assess the real behind the rumour,
and should our keywords catch their ear,
what then—spy to spy—shall we say
to the boys and girls at the NSA?

We’ll say that humans are become
a single suffering tribe,
moving into unmarked territory,
hungry and hallucinating.

We’ll say, here’s a truth of human feeling:
it hurts to be awake out here.

Photo from Tech Week Europe
Photo from Tech Week Europe

Note to “Return to Mago” readers: This poem was recently published in CounterPunch, but I wanted to add a few comments for its re-publication here. Being under surveillance used to be an unnerving experience reserved for activists who criticized their government’s excesses; now it’s an experience shared by everyone who uses a cell phone or computer. If we include satellite surveillance, all you have to do is to live and breathe somewhere on the planet and you will be imaged by technology so precise that it can capture a license-plate number from space. This turning of our earth home into an electronically monitored open-air prison has outraged me for years, and I think it must also have silenced me to some degree because I feel freer and more myself since this particular poem has been launched into cyberspace.

I’m including the watchers in the “single suffering tribe” we belong to because they are individually under surveillance by the agency they work for, and the penalty for screwing up, or being perceived by a superior to have screwed up, can be heavier than losing a job and a pension. I also include them since, like any other human, they are caught in a world financial system that appears to have been hijacked by the socially pathological. Finally, I include them because they are earthlings and therefore subject to runaway global warming. (And, by the way, guys, Washington, D.C. was built on reclaimed swamp land ― wouldn’t you be making your nation more secure by turning your attention to boat-building?)

This was first published in the Counterpunch,


Leave a Response

Be the First to Respond!

Notify of

Oh thank you, editors, for finding an image that perfectly fits the poem!

Mago Work Admin

That is great, I thought so too on behalf of Anne!


Hi, I do think this is a great website. I stumbledupon it 😉 I am going to return yet again since I bookmarked it.
Money and freedom is the greatest way to change, may you be rich and continue to
help others.