It was just one zero too many
one gadget too much.
The books gave up and,
in a flurry, took flight.
How? Scientists couldn’t say.
Where to? Only the mystic,
lunatic fringe would even conjecture.
Most kids didn’t even notice,
cocooned in their networks
of empty streams of bits and bytes.
That in itself might account for the Why.
The little ones took to wing first—
homilies and pocket Bibles.
They darted away quietly
between one glance and the next.
Then, the paperbacks,
Bradbury’s stuff leading the way,
winging off to Mars, pulps in tow.
A few thought this a wonder.
Soon though, the Oxford dictionary,
Norton’s anthology, and Shakespeare
(Riverside editions) were aloft.
Then came the law books. Lord! The law books.
That’s when it became impossible
not to notice. Only then did anyone care —
when it was too much,
when it was too inconvenient
They interfered with things —
the beautiful, fluttering books.
They brought air traffic to a standstill,
and that was just for starters.
They frightened pets and startled drivers.
They smashed into windows
and had a predilection for power lines.
That could very nearly be called a vendetta.
Some of the volumes, in their vigor,
shed pages, showered the world
with poetry and cliffhangers
and snippets of wonder.
Office districts were soon buried
in white like Narnia in perpetual winter.
After a few damps nights, entire city blocks
were entombed in paper machê.
Antique districts swirled into yellowed autumns,
Washington transformed into a Hitchcock-ian hell
with tax code books circling slowly overhead
like buzzards awaiting prey.
Some lonely readers thought to lure
their loved ones home. Other readers plotted
to recapture them by trickery —
their methods as varied as their genre.
Poetry lovers were seen sprinting
through meadows with butterfly nets,
or canary cages baited with binder’s glue,
singing line and verse.
Mystery fans sleuthed while suspense
fans waited on tenterhooks. Horror
fans gathered to scribe ISBN numbers
into hearts of pentagrams, elaborately in red.
Baristas advised wafting cappuccino vapors
out the windows while lawyers filed injunctions
against authors, ordering them to cease
their trickery or face consequences.
Some readers even tried to signal them
with book lights from the rooftops.
Once, for a single night, the world lit up
like a great ocean reflecting the night stars.
But, as difficult as they were to pen, words
were ten times more elusive on the wing.
Try as readers might, the books wouldn’t listen
to reason and they couldn’t be caught.
Certain people had the temerity to shoot
at them, drunk and cocksure,
thinking the entire thing some grand sport.
That proved to be unwise.
Hemingway, Twain, and, even Dickens
wouldn’t stand for such impudence,
and the men with guns
suddenly couldn’t run fast enough.
It was clear the books wouldn’t come down.
Citizens demanded solutions.
Officials all over the world took steps —
convened in capitols, passed resolutions.
They evicted molly-coddling librarians,
chained shut the library doors
boarded up the busted windows.
Briefly, it was poetic.
All the books fluttering
like exotic butterflies in gardens
or snowflakes in enormous globes.
The books didn’t tire, though,
and soon the libraries, too, were aloft,
hovering like giant zeppelins, plunging
cities, then the states, into twilight.
And then one night, just like that
without any ceremony or fanfare,
they left the world — ascending —
never to return.
Yes, the text was still there:
digitized, sanitized, organized.
But it wasn’t the same,
and it wasn’t long before people knew it.
Like salt without savor,
like flowers without scent,
the text was without soul
and offered nothing to their readers.
There were no sanctuaries of silence,
no temples of free thought.
There was only a gaping void
where no one had expected one —
the world had become a darker place.
Soon, men fashioned paper wings
scribed them with wild tales,
their eyes fixed heavenward.
Poetry written by Andrew Sutton, narrated by Henrik Aareskjold