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Deus ex machina

ISSUE:  Winter 2007

Even the intangible can be broken.
Maybe it would be better for me to say
that things just go wrong, or that things

aren’t always harmonious. At the start
of Saint-Saens’ Danse macabre, a tritone,
an augmented fourth, stands in for the Devil.

The violin itself must be tuned especially for this.
You think I am lying, but I am not lying.
Not the Ghost in the machine, but the Devil

in the instrument. Things go wrong. Things
sometimes go terribly wrong. And some of us
are attracted to this. We want to fix things.

As children, we were the ones who fixed anything—
mechanical, electronic, any malfunctioning machine
could be fixed, our tool-like fingers responding

to a fidgety, overactive imagination. Is that not
what calls some of us to the “healing arts,”
that strange desire to fix the human machine?

But all things broken cannot be fixed; the man,
whose eyes never meet my own, tells me
his spirit is broken, his spirit is crushed

(his words, not mine). And what can I
say to that? What tools do I have to fix that?
Not these hands, not this brain

looking for other instruments besides these hands,
not this voice that is trying now to reassure him:
It will be okay . . . Believe me, things will be fine . . .

Nothing is working. He tells me this. Nothing
is working. And tomorrow, the nurse will offer me
a scrap of newspaper, will silently enter my office

and say nothing. When I read about how
he hanged himself in his garage, no amount
of tears or wringing of hands will fix it.


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