What the Ventriloquists Said

By Cole Swensen b. 1955 Cole Swensen
amid the growing craze for automatons
The voice within the device that moves      is not
                                                              (as if nothing human
could be quite that moving) My precious edgling: though
the answers be given by a man concealed,
                                        these are speaking machines.
                                        They were risking their lives.
Usually a woman or a child, who woke up inside the oracle,
who swallowed the burning oil, and who forces the idols to speak?
                                        Though when the bishop Theophilus
broke open the statues at Alexandria, he found them hollow
                                        it does not necessarily follow that
The penalty for trickery was death.
                                        Such is the wealth of belief.
                                        Behind a finely painted sheet of shell
a voice unlatched surrounds the world.

Cole Swensen, “What the Ventriloquists Said” from Goest. Copyright © 2004 by Cole Swensen. Reprinted by permission of Alice James Books.

Source: Goest (Alice James Books, 2004)

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Poet Cole Swensen b. 1955

Subjects Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Mythology & Folklore

Poetic Terms Free Verse


Cole Swensen was born and raised near San Francisco and earned her BA and MA  from San Francisco State University and a PhD from the University of California Santa Cruz. She is a former director of the creative program at the University of Denver and taught in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. She is currently a professor in the literary arts program at Brown University and founder and editor of La Presse, a . . .

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SUBJECT Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Mythology & Folklore

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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