by David Ritchie

O’Leary had an office job
For which he showed up daily.
He also took to thinking very

He once pursued a train of thought
And all of its ensuing
Complexities a bit too far:
And that was his undoing.

At 9 a.m., he came to work
And muttered, “Well, I’m here.”
He booted up his laptop and
Accessed the netosphere.

He checked his emails and the news,
But then he made the blunder
Of pondering his last remark
In ontologic wonder:

“Of course I’m here, as anyone
Is capable of seeing.
But who am ‘I’? And where is ‘here’?
And what is meant by ‘being’?”

These questions weighed so heavily
Upon his cogitation
That poor O’Leary underwent
An eerie transformation.

He very quickly lost all sense
Of who and what he was,
And forfeited his claim to his
Identity, because

You’re an uncertain quantity,
To disappearance prone:
A question mark, that is, lest your
Identity is known.

And so, O’Leary dropped into
An existential dark
And dwindled to the status of
A punctuation mark.

His fellow workers heard a ZAP!!
And hastened to respond.
“O’Leary’s gone!” they cried. “He’s slipped
Into the null beyond!”

For all they found of Mr. O’.,
On checking his machine,
Was just a tiny “?”
On his computer screen.

From being into nothingness
He’d slid, without a doubt.
Not even Jean-Paul Sartre
Could render him thereout.

My friends, be sure of who you are.
Avoid the state of mind
That carried off O’Leary, leaving
Not a speck behind.

Be careful not to dig too deep
In philosophic stuff.
You know you are. You’re you. You’re here.
Now, isn’t that enough?

David Ritchie is author of 20 published books of fiction and nonfiction. His articles and short stories have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post, The Londonist, Inquiry, Analog, High Technology, Technology Review, PC, the New York Press, and many other publications. An Echols Scholar at the University of Virginia from 1969 to 1973, he spent 11 years as an editor in South Korea’s English as a Second Language publishing industry. His book 10 Million Tigers (Nulbom, 2002), a study of everyday life in Seoul, appeared on the Yahoo Korea bestseller list. He now lives as a novice at a monastery in New England. Twitter: @EGhostwriter.