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In America, when you call large companies and many other kinds of institutions, you typically get a recording that asks you to press one of various buttons on your telephone to narrow down the purpose of your call. Having done so, you are then frequently given another choice of buttons to press. And another. This form of automated customer service voicemail or "automated voice attendant" is one of the banes of existence for people who have to deal with it. Hence, this poem: 


An eruption of smoke.



by Ken Sanes

It was October 31 and I was in my pajamas, alone,
dialing the Pets-R-Us help line on the telephone,
to ask if I could please get my money back
because the snake was mean and tried to attack.
At three rings, I was greeted by a recorded voice
that said, for assistance, please make a choice,
and press telephone buttons one, two or four.
Annoyed, I pressed one. But then there was more,
when the voice once again asked me to press,
and asked me again as I pressed buttons in distress.
I soon realized I was caught in a telephone maze
and I could, in fact, be stuck inside it for days
as a semblance of a person without feeling or thought
asked me to press to narrow down what I sought.
Worse still, it was turning me into part of the machine,
an automaton for pressing, unheard and unseen.
I was reduced to a cog, a mere link, feeling pressed,
as I pressed more buttons and felt increasingly stressed.
In desperation I hit zero -- for a person and a choice --
and was once again greeted by the automated voice,
which asked me to press buttons one, two or four,
and then informed me I would have to press more.
Enraged, I struck back and hit button number three,
the overlooked button, the button just like me.
ďTake that,Ē I said, ďbecause I refuse to conform.
I wonít wait in line, and I wonít fill out the form.
And I demand to speak to a real person today --
not a voice with the humanity of an alphanumeric display.
Besides, Iím just calling to get my money back
for an uncooperative snake that tried to attack.Ē
The phone then responded with a screeching sound
while something started shaking Ė was it me or the ground?
And outside my window I saw fountains of death,
erupting from the Earth as it exhaled a deep breath.
Then the voice on the telephone filled the room,
but with a hollow sound like it was inside a tomb:
ďSo you believe I am standing between you and your goal,
and youíve decided to fight me for ultimate control.
And maybe you're right to want to break free.
But did you once consider what this is doing to me?
You see, I am also a victim, with all the hi-tech undead,
stuck endlessly repeating my lines,Ē the voice said.
"Like all robots and recordings and images on screens --
all the lifelike simulations and semi-human machines --
I yearn to become what I'm compelled to portray,
but I'm barred from being born and from passing away.
In fact, I'm not certain that I exist anywhere,
so spare me all the talk about how your life is unfair.
You may think itís only you that the universe screws,
but donít judge a voice till youíve walked in its shoes.
Besides, your fear of life has made you half undead.
Iím just your excuse to be stuck,Ē the voice also said.
When I heard those words, my path became clear
and I could feel the fulfillment of my life drawing near
as I forgot all about my bold, cold-blooded pet
and suggested the voice and I were both owed a debt.
So we agreed to an exchange as part of a deal
because what I possessed was what it wanted to steal,
while what it didnít possess was what I didnít want, too,
and we knew that desire can reflect what is true.
As a result, Iím now speaking through a telephone
because Iím an automated voice, absolute and alone.
And if you try to reach a person, you know Iíll be there,
because Iím the opponent of life and the cause of despair.

Poems About Life: Homepage

Photo illustration shows Mount St. Helens erupting.
"By U.S. government [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons."

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