The Seat of the Mind

An erasure poem, adapted from a passage in The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species, a short story by Ken Liu in his book “The Paper Menagerie.”

 

Definitive census is

a perennial argument

about intelligence.

 

Each moment,

civilizations rise

and fall and die.

 

Time devours

every species, but

thoughts freeze the irresistible.

 

Books seat the mind, while

mazes divide and coalesce

our currents of thought.

 

Over time, the pattern

changes, as older memories are

forgotten, and new create an epiphany.

 

The departed now deposit new growth

to the youngest, fragile, freshest of thoughts.

 

Original Quote:

“There is no definitive census of all the intelligent species in the universe. Not only are there perennial arguments about what qualifies as intelligence, but each moment and everywhere, civilizations rise and fall, much as the stars are born and die. Time devours all. Yet every species has its unique way of passing on its wisdom through the ages, its way of making thoughts visible, tangible, frozen for a moment like a bulwark against the irresistible tide of time. Everyone makes books.

This stone is the seat of the Quatzoli mind. The stone organ is filled with thousands, millions of intricate channels, forming a maze that divides the water into countless tiny, parallel flows that drip, trickle, wind around each other to represent simple values which, together, coalesce into streams of consciousness and emerge as currents of thought.

Over time, the pattern of water flowing through the stone changes. Older channels are worn down and disappear or become blocked and closed off—and so some memories are forgotten. New channels are created, connecting previously separated flows—an epiphany—and the departing water deposits new mineral growths at the far, youngest end of the stone, where the tentative, fragile miniature stalactites are the newest, freshest thoughts.

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