991: Googling Ourselves

991: Googling Ourselves

991: Googling Ourselves


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

In the late nineties, before cell phones, my friend Melissa couldn’t reach me on my last known number, a landline. I had moved; we’d lost touch. So, lacking a massive telephone directory for Philadelphia, she did what humans did back then; she dialed 411 and spoke to a directory assistant, a stranger, who magically recited a number where, supposedly, I could be reached.

When Melissa called, an elderly woman answered and said, she was sorry to disappoint. Although a Major Jackson lived at the residence, her husband, she was most likely seeking a different Major Jackson. Melissa asked if we were related. “No,” she said, “but, we might as well be. I’ve taken so many calls for him. He sounds like a nice young man.” Melissa said, yes, he’s the best, to which the elder Mrs. Jackson replied, yes, but probably not better than my Major Jackson.

It’s become common now to check our digital footprint, to seek evidence of ourselves in cyberspace, a place where we might also encounter our namesakes. Today’s poem delves into the psychological roots of this self-searching.

Googling Ourselves
by Philip Schultz

          You think yourself wise, proud Zarathustra.
          Then guess the riddle … Speak then: Who am I?
          — Nietzsche

These strangers with my name,
busy being kidnapped, embezzled,
honored, and dying at a frightening rate.
The cross-dressing exterminator convicted of rape
in Kensington, Ohio, sentenced
to seventy-two years without bail, the policeman killed
stopping a burglary in Thermopolis, WY – could they
have imagined a Florida painter with their name
communicating with extraterrestrials through sculptures
made out of railroad tracks, or being written about 
in a poem by another member of their redundant family
for a reason none of us can explain?

Sometimes I fear I’m imaginary, don’t really exist.
Catch myself wondering why I only seem to like myself
when, say, I’m wearing a teacher’s face –
because I see myself only through others’ eyes?
In that case, who am I really? Alone at night,
watching a ball game, I’m always surprised when 
I speak to myself in the third person, wondering why
this man cares so much about something he plays no part in.

It’s easier to wonder why Nietzsche sought
his soul’s sympathy, a truth he knew he’d despise,
probably feared he wouldn’t survive. To imagine him up late,
seeking his ever-evolving, unidentifiable self,
a past more inhabitable and less unforgiving,
anxious to know why someone with his name would say,
“Poets lie too much, who among us has not adulterated his wine?”

Late at night the Web is a dangerous swamp
of voyeuristic self-scrutiny and addictive impersonation,
the ego testifying for and against itself, seeking evidence
of triumph and complicity, sanction without malice,
pretext or God. Who is this man obsessively looking up
all his persona narrators, feeling like a hodgepodge,
trapped somewhere between heaven and earth,
spitting against the wind? Is it because he knows
he’s getting closer to the end, will soon vanish
and become nothing? Is this why he’s studying
everyone who answers to his name, because
one may have invented time or sympathy or God 
and will love him, even momentarily, for who he is?

“Googling Ourselves” by Philip Schultz from LUXURY: POEMS. Copyright © 2018 by Philip Schultz. Reprinted by permission of Georges Borchardt, Inc., on behalf of the author. All rights reserved.