What the Ventriloquists Said

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)
More Poems by Cole Swensen