The food that feeds but does not satisfy
emerges as from seeds I did not sow
and like a rampant weed it starts to grow
until there’s not a plot it does not occupy.

It is a carnival aroma, cotton candy, fries,
a siren song, a laughing braggadocio
a knowingness that doesn’t really know—
the more I eat, the more it multiplies.

Hour by hour I fear how it devours my day
in ways that warrant constant connectivity
first thing in the morning and the last at night.

Otherwise it is invisible, a marvel of hearsay
that shows me pictures I can’t help but see
and sends me sounds by radio and light.

In truth the urge to fight
an appetite for eating that which eats me is absurd
as is the name WiFi, which is a nonsense word.

It rides not on the wings of birds
but baffling things that fly and perch at will.
Whose will? A question to be answered still.

80 responses »

  1. I had to look up what a Caudate Sonnet is!

    Cynthia, I thought this poem captured brilliantly the idea of something that is there but not there. It reminded me very much of William Blake’s “Book of Thel” in which he deals with a pre-existent being coming into existence:

    Ah! Thel is like a watry bow. and like a parting cloud.
    Like a reflection in a glass. like shadows in the water.
    Like dreams of infants. like a smile upon an infants face,
    Like the doves voice, like transient day, like music in the air…

    I like your poem (and Blake’s) very much.

        • That’s wonderful!! Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote one with that title, but as you may know, titles cannot be copyrighted so you certainly can use it. As I said before, I shall look forward to it!

            • It’s always good to to pretend what happens is what we intended to happen.

              …and, have I told you? I admire your forays through the forms. What you’ll learn and what you’ll do with all of it, who knows? I think we both know that even to reject a form one must know and understand it…then a creative leap, even away from it, may happen.

              • That’s indeed true. There was a form I came across the other day – again another Spanish one whose name I forget – that was in the shape of a bird or a snail or something: so many syllables per line. Someone “accepted the challenge” to write one of those. It was absolute drivel but the number of syllables per line was correct!

  2. ‘The more I eat, the more it multiplies’ this sonnet should be on the walls of every psychiatrists waiting room. It seems to me you have just identified much of the state of depression impeccably. And in a ‘Caudate Sonnet’ which even Bruce didn’t know! 🙂

    • Sometimes a strict form, like a sonnet, makes it easier to say hard-to-say things. I am pondering your point about the state of depression….it’s very much all around, isn’t it? The world is too much with us…as Wordsworth said. Thanks, as always, for your insight, Pauline. 🙂

  3. You describe a paradox. It’s better–but it isn’t.

    We are so ‘connected’ to family we needn’t speak to them.

    And there’s a page for your latest skiing trip. You can see it, hear it. What more do you want? Actual interaction with a fellow skier (human being)?

    We give up our freedom in exchange for communication. They provide the platform, we communicate with the world. So what’s the catch? We lose our freedom from being pelted with advertisements, from being subtly directed to buy this product or to vote for this or that clown.

    Yes, things are so much better now.

    • We are connected in one way–a new way—and much less connected in the old ways. It’s very confusing, and indeed a paradox. What can “love thy neighbor” possibly mean now? It’s a great relief, for some, to be liberated from conventionally governed interactions, into all the possibilities of virtual ones. And yet I am seeing expressions of suffering in many of the blogs I read. I don’t think any of us know what is happening; it’s too new. I know that I, for one, try to avoid the buying and selling as much as possible. So I have no smart phone, nor twitter, nor Facebook account. WordPress is probably bad–and good–enough. Without it, I would never have been able to read and appreciate you.

      • Without it, I would never have been able to read and appreciate you.


        And therein lies the paradox.

        The way to look at it is that it’s a tool. But when the hammer starts deciding things–there’s a problem.

        And I’m happier with a pack of seeds than I could ever be with a smart phone–but that’s me!

          • I think I’ll post a picture of my ponytail palm tomorrow. I grew it from seed and it’s about 5 feet tall now. I just planted it out and I’m terribly afraid that the wind will knock it over. It’s going to take a while for the root system to get established. Meanwhile we’ve been getting unusually strong wind for this time of year. Yikes.

      • “What can “love thy neighbor” possibly mean now?”
        One might ask whether it ever meant what most people now assume it means: i.e. one’s next-door neighbour. Even if the phrase is accurately translated (rather than a paraphrase of a Biblical verse), do we know what “neighbour” actually meant at the time of the transition from BCE to AD?
        If it was originally meant metaphorically (and much of Jesus’ teaching IS), it probably still means now the sentiment it was meant to convey at the time: encapsulated by these exchanges on here, with folks you’ve never met and are never likely to.
        You don’t know if e.g. Derrick K is a closet racist (I’m sure he isn’t, but [since I know him personally] I can use him as example, since I’m equally sure he won’t take offence at the postulation); in those circumstances, I’d guess you wouldn’t choose to be friends, but you still share other things in common; if he WERE a racist, at this remove you’d rub along, in toleration of a facet of a person whom you might otherwise like quite well, even while disagreeing on one aspect. I imagine that’s what the message was, pace St Paul and subsequent tinkerers with the language for their own ends!!
        Your posts truly generate some poetic turns of phrase in their own right (I keep thinking “what a song THAT would make!”) so you’ve become the Muse to your own verses!

        • Yes, it’s probably best to use “neighbor” metaphorically.” I am still amazed at how close, friendly, even deeply affectionate it is possible to become with my internet friends whom, as you say, I may never actually meet, but with whom I communicate in ways that can only be called spiritual rather than physical. There’s something to be said or learned yet about human connection beyond the family, the tribe, the herd, the mob, the immediate physical neighbor.. and a unity more global, maybe even more cosmic suggests itself….

  4. ….preach it!
    How it brings me back to around 1955 when we finally joined the rest of the neighbourhood and got that box with the funny window that ended up in the dining room so we could watch it as we ate. It took years before anyone realised how eviscerated we were, how it sucked the oxygen not only out of the room, but out of our lungs–even teaching us how cool it was to light up a Lucky.
    And here we are again, bowing to the latest lorelei, bowled over by devices that make strangers out of friends, and keep strangers even stranger.
    ….but I won’t do Facebook, he says lamely.

    • We were the first family in our small town to have a tv set…my parents used to watch the test pattern and general snow on its screen every evening, for nearly a year, hoping to see something….anything. It certainly changed life, once it got its hooks into it. But even then, it wasn’t all day, all the time. What’s going on now is, to me, as scary as it is overwhelming. Like too many toys we just don’t know how to play with, without endangering ourselves and all that we care about. And yes, the worst of it is that it is based in buying and selling. I don’t do Facebook, either, and I understand the “lamely” with which you quality that statement. Though I am not at all a natural pessimist, I sometimes think of my grandmother who said, back in the 1960’s (!!!): “I’m glad I’m on my way out.”

  5. I am addicted to WordPress although lately less as a repository for my own writing but for reading the work of people I feel connected to BECAUSE of their work – like you and Bruce. It is a strange thing and often I feel it – the internet – is a threatening presence so I’ve been reducing my consumption. But its siren call and carnival scents are irresistible. What to do?

    • I am totally on the same page with you, Susanne. It may be even more of a conundrum for someone of my age, with limited mobility, who lives alone. Fortunately I am by temperament a solitary so I don’t worry too much about it, …except for some days…..I don’t think any of us know what to do….yet.

    • It is indeed a blessing…a mixed one, of course. But I’m glad you’ve become a reader of my poems, Lisa, as I am glad to read about your thoughts and doings in an area of our country that I have known very little about.

      • I hope to go to Dumbarton Oaks this Sunday, so maybe I can write about that! I’m certainly glad to have learned about your poetry and read so much of it now. In fact, I was reading some last night…

        • Oh, I hope you do write something about that. As a long time resident of Boston and frequenter of Cambridge’s Harvard offerings, I was familiar with the name Dumbarton Oaks but only in a kind of exotic way… as one might be, thinking of the Byzantine, the Pre-Columbian and landscape architecture while plunked in the middle of a big noisy city….

          • Ooh, Cynthia, I’ve written quite a few times about D. Oaks. Just search it on my blog and it will pop right up. Two are fairly in depth. It’s my favorite place in DC and I’m not one to be able to choose favorites…

            • There’s a Stravinsky piece with that title, I’m sure. I think it was written for / commissioned by some people he knew (perhaps patrons of his) who held musical soirées (or maybe something more formal, like high-end house-concerts) at their home (I’m guessing the main residence in the area), which (again I guess) drew its name from the house, as the settlement expanded.

              • The Bliss family, who owned the house, commissioned the piece. There is a music room in the house that’s perfect for chamber music. The Bretton Woods conference was held there (not in the music room, but the house). It belongs to Harvard now and is used as a center to study Byzantine and Pre-Columbian art as well as landscape architecture. Goodness. Sorry to be so long-winded. It’s my favorite place in the DC area…

  6. It is a brave poem, I think, to be a critique of the internet. As many of your readers, I have mixed feelings. But, overall, when I think about when I arrived in New Zealand, and how difficult it was to interact and connect academically or otherwise, I have to say that the virtual world is a blessing (and I like fush and chups too, from time to time, which I eat with a great sense of guilt, which make them even better, and yes, you do not feel like you have eaten and you want more), but, of course, as all good things, in moderation 🙂

    • What a nice comment, Sylvie! I agree that the internet is a wonderful tool for connecting with others, whether you are in my situation as a retired person living alone, or, as you say, coming to a new place where you don’t know many people. Another good thing about it, is that you have a choice to deal with certain people—or not.
      As for fish and chips, I love them…in fact I think you could “french-fry” just about anything, and I would like it, though I agree it needs to be enjoyed in moderation. I’m happy to hear the internet has brought you good readers and friends, just as you bring the same to us. Someday I would enjoy hearing about the life journey that brought you to New Zealand, and your work as an academic (the latter being something I too know about).

  7. Oh, no is this poem actually criticizing WiFi??? Say it isn’t true Cynthia! Is there life without Wifi????
    Somebody asked would you give up wifi for 3 months for $3 million?
    I’m still thinking about it……….
    Love your brillance always, and thanks to WiFi I can read it instantly! 😉 😉

    • I know, I know, it’s blasphemy. I would be as upset as you if deprived of the internet now.

      It all started when I was researching WiFi and came upon the fact that it is indeed a nonsense word. It doesn’t refer to anything , really. Here’s part of what I read:

      “The term Wi-Fi, commercially used at least as early as August 1999, was coined by brand-consulting firm Interbrand Corporation. The Wi-Fi Alliance had hired Interbrand to determine a name that was “a little catchier than ‘IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence'”. Phil Belanger, a founding member of the Wi-Fi Alliance who presided over the selection of the name “Wi-Fi”, also stated that Interbrand invented Wi-Fi as a play on words with hi-fi, and also created the Wi-Fi logo.

      The Wi-Fi Alliance used the “nonsense” advertising slogan “The Standard for Wireless Fidelity” for a short time after the brand name was invented, leading to the misconception that Wi-Fi was an abbreviation of “Wireless Fidelity”. The yin-yang Wi-Fi logo indicates the certification of a product for interoperability.”

      So, Cindy, in the end, it’s a very appropriate name for the amazing and confusing medium we all so love and have become addicted to. We can’t go backwards. and now that we’re here, I’ll say as you do, I’m glad I can zip over for a visit with your beautiful posts!

      • I must say I’d be a bit suspicious of a company offering brands for money when its own best stab at a moniker was “Interbrand” 🙂

        • Agreed. Actually I’m suspicious of the kind of people who spend their time (and lives) trying to come up with names and ways that play into human gullibility and credulousness in the first place! 😉

    • You truly need to “think” about that?? Just imagine what a normal person could do with that much (and you’re not even deprived for ever!)
      I too read Cynthia’s stuff “instantly”, and I’m wired.

    • Me too, Derrick. Where would we be without it? We used to be without it….but now we don’t think we can…which seems to happen with all new technology….i.e. my grandfather had no air conditioner in his car, and grandma had no automatic washer, but I seem to think I can’t live without those things! I love being able to use the internet, as I know you do, and we–or at least I—can remember when there was no TV and you needed to talk to a central operator to make a phone call. Who woulda thunk it!

  8. LOL! Loved it. My spin is “nothing has changed, just the props around us” Here’s one “the internet is like when we first invented fire, good servant, bad master.” First we discover it, and then we work out how to make it work for us, and probably get burnt a bit along the way. I love your poems. How cool is such a good poem about the internet! Very! 😀

    • I love your analogy to the discovery of fire—maybe any unrest we feel now about the internet is because we are still at the “probably get burnt” stage in some ways…mostly by overuse or inappropriate use. I also like the idea that mostly the props change… but the show still goes on, doesn’t it! Thank you so much for your kind words about the poem, Sharon; it was fun to write. 🙂

  9. Hmmm….I seem to recall someone calling WiFi “nonsense” before, and someone replying that he agreed, although (not unlike many people) he rendered his opinion without knowing beans (or Brussels sprouts, if you prefer) about the subject. But, whoever they were, they were obviously as brilliant as Cindy called you. 🙂

    • That is the wonderful thing about the internet….we can always find out beans or brussels sprouts about things, with our own googly eyes, or simply enjoy the camaraderie of those who, like myself, may sometimes not know from Shinola but are quite entertained and enlightened by others…as I am by mistermuse, for instance. 🙂

  10. Cynthia, I had a long analysis of the poem almost completed, and then wordpress, as happens sometimes, ate it. Talk about WiFi as a nonsense word! I am not feeling up to going through the whole effort again this morning. I’m sorry, but let it be known that this poem is worth careful analysis. The key lines, to me, are in the tail:
    In truth the urge to fight
    an appetite for eating that which eats me is absurd
    The sonnet starts out with a light, ironical tone, gets more serious, then explodes into these lines, which could, of course, stand for depression, as one of the respondents here said, or, since the “it” is never clearly defined, though defined wonderfully with metaphors:
    It is a carnival aroma, cotton candy, fries,
    a siren song, a laughing braggadocio
    a knowingness that doesn’t really know—
    the more I eat, the more it multiplies.
    It could just as easily refer to the Internet or any other of the things that can consume our lives. The WiFi line hints at technology. It could, horror of horrors, actually refer to overeating. I’ve had that experience, unfortunately.
    The ironical comment on ourselves as eating that which is eating us is brilliant, of course. The tone is what makes the poem special.
    I did want to make a comment on your craft, which is always wonderful. I, as you know, often do not follow the form with exactness, slipping in an off rhyme, for instance, some of the time, or ignoring the Miltonian convention of rhyming the last line of the 14 lines with the first line of the caudate (tail) lines, but you are much stricter. Oh, how I admire that, especially when you maintain tone and meaning and syntax the way you manage.

    • I’m sorry our friend wordpress ate your analysis, my friend, but what you’ve written here is pure delight for me to read—as your comments always are. This poem began when I discovered that the word WiFi is a nonsense word (see comment to Cindy, above) and then slowly morphed into trying to deal with the unease–or disease– I sense in myself and in others about the overwhelming changes that technology seems to be making in our lives, faster than we know what to do with. Of course it may be more alarming to those of us who knew a world without all of this, and how different it was. The youngsters see it all as quite normal. But there is that business of addiction to it, or obsession with it, and the kids are not immune to that, or to the changes being worked in our social dealings and even in our use of language. You’re right, (and especially with the underlying commerciality of it), it does invite broader questions of who is eater and who is eaten.

      Thank you, especially for your comment on craft. Though many enjoy the effect without understanding how it works (and that’s good!) I appreciate a reader who walks the same walk and can talk about it…as you do, so eloquently, Thomas.

  11. Yes. As I read I thought, that’s it! There is so much I love online, but I’m a project person and projects have a beginning a middle and an end. This engagement with the Internet is endless – beguiling, maddening (spellcheck wanted ‘maidenly’ there – I think not), informative and so on… but always inconclusive. I’m not sure I cope well with this, though I try different strategies and hope to find a satisfactory one in the end. The food that feeds but does not satisfy.

    • I’m quite with you on the business of trying strategies. Much as I love so much online, if I let it get away with me I have a real sense of unease….as If I am wasting time that could be better spent on one of my many beloved projects. I am a project person, too, which keeps me motivated. It is so easy to enjoy and then drift into that unease of having no beginning, middle or end…like rising way too late in the morning and having a sense that the whole world has started without you. I haven’t figured out just what is happening yet, but as you say, there are strategies to try. Maybe something will become clear, and sensible, without ruining the fun.

  12. I’ve been grappling with Spinoza’s Ethics of late and trying to clarify how things like sound, scents and airborne electronic information fit into his Substance. You have prompted me to ask… would you say this food that feeds but does not satisfy belongs to Extension, or does it belong to Thought?

    • It’s been many years since I read Spinoza, and I certainly cannot say how he would schematize airborne electronic information, but if you include it in the realms of sound and scent—which I have done in the poem—you get into the old if-a-tree-falls-in-the-forest-and-there’s-no-one-there-to-hear-it-does-it-make-a-sound, conundrum.

      Spinoza, as all good philosophers, tries to make his way out of the conundrum by proposing definitions. (just as the tree in the forest problem is solved by defining “sound” as physical waves AND as something heard by a receptor) and I believe his over-riding effort is to say that Substance is One, not Two as Descartes maintained. He made the distinction “Thought” and “Extension” just so he could talk about a difference of attributes, but he didn’t see them as separate THINGS. Philosophers must in the end dissect and put life into word boxes; that’s what they do.

      I would say the food that feeds but does not satisfy is a dynamic— both “Extension” and “Thought” and is a relationship, a reciprocity, an experience. And it’s that dang blasted itch of us humans to try to “solve” it by capture and definition that prompts idiots like me to speak a poem about how it is experienced, at least by one person.

      • Ah yes. I can see my mistake now. Sound and scent, like the contents of my feed reader, are “modes” (or the things) of Substance, but Thought and Extension are “attributes” (what the intellect perceives to be the Essence in/of the things) of Substance. So “modification” and “attribute” are very different word boxes: one box does not belong to the other. Instead, they co-exist as you put it so well, in a dynamic relationship. Thanks, Cynthia!

        I haven’t listened to your reading of this poem yet but it still seems perfectly real, bearing of truth, and excellent to me! It certainly didn’t fall on deaf ears. Also, you are clearly no idiot! You chose the wrong word box for yourself there:)

    • You’re right, Inese….the idea of human will has always been a thorny one. We have the free will to control ourselves (or not), or so we think, and yet it sometimes seems as if we don’t, especially if a more powerful other will is imposed on us…the will of tyrants, the will of “the people”, the will of a God, passion, nature….Thank you for coming to read and comment. I hope your eyes are getting better.

      • Thank you Cynthia, I still feel like my eyes are full of sand, but it isn’t getting worse.
        True, we can control ourselves if we wish so, but we have no control over others will. I am trying to avoid all these ‘ten things you should do and twenty things you shouldn’t ‘ sort of messages 🙂 They are very invasive, and toxic. It amazes me how critical people can be when they hear a spiritual message that prompts thinking, and how easy they receive everything that takes their brain away and feeds them with ready-made somebody’s ideas.

            • To put that another way: “they expect others to open their heads and pour knowledge in”, a friend of mine wryly described his teenage sons and their friends (they’re about 40+ now, it was being observed THAT long ago!)

  13. An excellent description of the illusionary virtual world that is inexorably taking over – including the very concerning aspects “from seeds I did not sow” and ‘whose will?”. So interesting to read all the comments above as well. So enjoy your blog… 🙂

      • Yep. The ability to communicate across the world with so many different minds; hear what and how people perceive and interpret ; and receive constructive feedback, really opens and expands the mind. So exciting! 😊

  14. We’re connected to this thing called internet, through this thing called WiFi – it’s like having virtual coffee with dozens of close friends. While I’ve been missing lately (lots of house projects, another two weeks and then freedom to create again and enjoying virtual coffee with my friend Cynthia). If it wasn’t for the curse of the internet and blog world, I’d never have had the opportunity to meet you my dear friend ~

    • Likewise, Mary! It is a hate/love thing, but it must be heavier on the love side, since we keep right on doing it! I understand the need for a break, but I do look forward to more of your lovely paintings and drawings when you return to them…..

  15. This poem really hit the mark for me. I’m always saying to my wife, “I’m going to spend less time reading news on the Internet”, or “That’s it – I’m leaving Facebook!” She replied devastatingly once, if you had been this weak-willed back when you were quitting smoking, I don’t think I would have married you!” Ouch – that’s the real problem: it’s not the internet, it’s me!. Anyway, I’m always trying to cut down or streamline my time online, and your poem leaves an excellent phrase in my head to help me do so “the food that feeds but does not satisfy”. Thank you!

    • Hi Andy–
      This poem started as that phrase, which floated around in my head for quite a while and for the very reason you mention: I’m always thinking I should spend less time online because it really does have the after effect of having binged on junk food.
      Glad to have passed the phrase on to you, for what it’s worth. We will figure it all out, with time, I guess. Thanks for stopping by, today.

  16. This poem captures the paradox beautifully. We have more information than ever before but fewer solutions. And even more questions. In our heart of hearts we know we should stay away, or at least limit our exposure to the online world, but are constantly drawn towards it. Maybe in a few generations humans will have fingers and eyes bigger than the rest of the body, for which we will have no use. No talking. No walking. etc. Only typing, swiping and seeing. They say species evolve physically in response to stimuli and survival issues. 😦

    • “Fingers and eyes bigger than the rest of the body….only typing, swiping and seeing”…Ankur!! You have probably imagined our future indeed! If Darwin was right, then there is much to consider in what you say….and now I think of my grandmother, who was flummoxed by what was happening in the 1960’s and proclaimed: “I’m glad I”m on my way out!” It’s still a bit of a problem, isn’t it….this addiction to airborne electronic information.. 🙂

  17. It reminded me of Nietzsche. The symbolism of ‘appetite that eats’, the WiFi that exists and doesn’t: the more they balloon, the more they vanish, taking us with them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s