“A dog’s heaven is a squirrel’s hell.”	
                                          — Anonymous
          Insolubilia was the medieval name for paradoxes
          such as Epimedes’ classical(600 BCE) Liar’s Paradox: 
          If a liar says he or she is lying, then is the liar telling the truth?

It was a kind of training, studying / The flimsy red paperback of codes: runes for kids, 
hobo signs, transposition and cipher. / As well, the cereal box disclosed 
Among its sugar-frosted nuggets / The decoder ring with built-in magnifier.
The notion that a message / Might not mean what it said
Bit like a gimlet: You could create a secret, / But so could someone else.
I pored over the Elvish / At the back of Tolkien,
The Swahili glossary / At the back of jungle tales,
Morse code’s frenetic / Dits and dahs.
What was said might not be / Clear. Or right. Truth 
Depended on who spoke it. / At what point did promises
Become suspect or broken? / There were no absolutes
Once doubt set in. The sense in my head / Did not jibe. I was lost
As the congregation spoke their Sunday codes. / They needn’t even speak
In tongues. Explanations rarely came / And if they did, I didn’t grasp 
one iota — alpha to omega, it was / Greek to me.

Love too is a code and we / Are all double agents. It’s a hell 
Of a pickle. / How do we move through life scanning for barriers 
Where none exist / But missing the ones in our path? The Enigma Machine 
In my head interprets a red and green / That you might not, decides 
A beauty in the instant of beholding, / Discerns poison in another man’s 
Toothsome meat. The language that it speaks / Is arcane and unique as Latin is
To the biologist: Joe Blow can’t fathom / Whether Harmogenanina subdetectagrows
In the garden, flies or crawls or swims. / Someone knows — many someones 
Know. Someone had the key / To the supernatural or mundane characters
Attending the ill-drawn flora, tubes and baffling vats / Of the Voynich Manuscript. 
They clung to a few recognizable charts / Of astrology and medicine. 
(Was it a hoax to fob off / On a wealthy king, or arcane spells
Like Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, ostensibly / Too dangerous and outré
To reveal plainly? A lost language? Someone knew.) / What could we believe 
Of this incunabulum, or of anything? / We might believe anything, 
Close encounters, far-fetched beasts / At Earth’s ends, missing links,
Love and trust and alternative facts, / Heavens and hells and world without end.

We choose what to believe, / Or think we do, as susceptible
To sway as pachinko balls, / Buffeted by our trendy “influencers.”
We may subscribe to science, reason, / Mysterium, subterfuge — may not.
What caused the fires that charred our woods / And towns this summer? Weather? 
Anarchists? God’s punishment? / It’s too much to think on, easier
To stick with the code you know / Even though you know
Not everyone speaks it. / You might comprise the congregation of one, 
Working your way steadily, / And with a dour satisfaction, to a dog’s heaven.

E.g., the man in the president’s house says / It’s all lies, whatever runs against 
His notions. Yet what spins from his lips / Can’t be trusted either. Truth 
must be one or t’other. The Liar’s Paradox / Is no way to run a country.
It’s one thing, in war, to assume / The enemy army codes its plots
And yours codes theirs. / But there the paradigm should end.

Should. “Perception is reality,” / The marketing guru intones. 
Meanwhile a conjurer with a spinning deck / Deals in what we call
Magic, but the cards / Are right there in front of us,
Real as our smiles and our beliefs / Toothy and toothsome.
The “business,” as stage-crafters say, / Proceeds, and hoodwinks us 
As necessary. It’s what sells tickets. / We buy it, the whole megillah, 
Even though we suspect we’re schmucks. / We love a challenge, try winkling out 
A truth from the nautilus of illusion, / To decode deception and say, 
I know how that’s been done, / I could do that myself, my preschooler 
could paint better than that, / I don’t know what’s good
But I know what you should believe. / But positing an alien elite  
That rigs malign ciphers is easier / Than fathoming the whole world’s 
Libretto and all our talky walk-ons, classified / In the burnished codes 
Of history’s taxonomy, / Exact, unique, and just perhaps soluble. 

Sean Bentley | Kingfisher
Contents | Mudlark No. 72 (2021)