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Issue II – POETIC SYSTEMS – Klara du Plessis

“Omni Systems” is the second of three parts of DANTE’S BUREAU, a prosimetrum linking the origins of bureaucratic & poetic forms. I presented the first version of this text as a hybrid essay for a “Dante & Modern Literature” course facilitated by Prof. Stephen Ross, at Concordia University. But, really, the essay started in Brazil, then grew with my lifelong karmic relationship with bureaucracy through five different countries (I have social security numbers in all of them), to the chagrin of my father, Antonio Carlos Monteiro de Souza Leite, who, truth be told, gave me a surname that won't fit any forms.

—Carlos A. Pittella



from DANTE’S BUREAU, “Omni Systems”


In José Saramago’s The Tale of the Unknown Island, a man goes to the Door of Petitions of the king’s house asking for a boat. The only person there is a cleaning lady, who passes the request along the line of command, from lower to higher officer, and eventually to the king, who asks, why? The question then bounces all the way back to the cleaning lady, who echoes, why a boat? To sail to the unknown island, the man says. While the answer loops, we have time to think: perhaps this plea is unusual enough to challenge the existing processes, made for regularity; perhaps no official wants sole responsibility for accepting/refusing that petition, lest they be punished or undermined somehow. In any case, the system seems made to separate petitioners from deciders—and to make petitioners wait.


My father is furious
that I wish to pay a fine.
It is easier to pay the fine
than not to pay the fine.
To pay the fine we must print a form
with a special code.
My father must bring
the form to the only bank that will accept it.
If all numbers are right,
this shall trigger the next
step of my forms
to renew
to open an account
to facilitate the international Xfer I need
to move on with my life.
▢ ▢ ▢ ▢ ▢ ▢


Looking for risks of despotism a democracy should avoid, Alexis de Tocqueville noticed a paradox: distance is an unavoidable problem of representation. The more people we want to include in a democratic process, the more layers of representation are needed. The system grows larger but we grow further from the power to alter it. More and more functionaries are needed to manage all its circles, so abuse becomes more likely. In between citizen and representative is bureaucracy. A diffuse power with no center, so it often goes unnoticed.[1]


Forms filed in the last three months:
IRS Modelo 3
Schedules 1, 2, & 8812
Schedules B & C
Schedules C-F-V & D-F-V
Schedules NR & SE
Schedule T-F-V
SIN extension
▢ ▢ ▢ ▢ ▢ ▢ ▢


According to Ernst Kantorowicz, the power of the King did not die with the Holy Roman Empire; it became our fisc. Known as “the private property of the king” in Carolingian times, “the fisc” was reinterpreted from the 12th century onwards—from that personal and private meaning as the king’s property to something impersonal and ubiquitous.[2] A system so pervasive that we have learned not to see it.[3] We lack the proper distance to gauge what’s is in front of us, what became a fact as unavoidable as death; death and taxes.


Asked to define “fascism,” Solmaz Sharif
said it was the sonnet.
A form.
I’m so sorry
my forms don’t fit in a sonnet.
▢ ▢ ▢ ▢ ▢ ▢ ▢ ▢


Appropriate classification is crucial to Dante’s infernal fisc. To judge is to link sins and debts. Sinners cannot but confess before Minos, who calculates their Hadean tax.[4] Minos’s tail is an unerring mathematical function: input = sins, output = degrees of confinement. Minos presumes guilt—there is little agency for sinners after death. The severity of a sin is measured by how much reason was used to commit it.[5] Thus, forging coins is deemed worse than passional murders. Fraud threatens the system as a whole; hence the fastidiousness of hell’s accounting.[6]


My passport expired 2+ years ago.
To renew it, I cannot renew it.
I must get a new passport from scratch.
I need to prove how
I have existed without one.
It’s because I use a different one.
But the consulate only accepts
required docs as proof of ID
& my only valid docs with photos
(my national ID & my army-reserve ID)
have blurred photos from humid pockets.
It’s a classic paradox:
I need to enter my birth country to renew my passport
but need my passport to enter my birth country.
There’s really no renewal.
Your country has lost its memory of itself.
You do not exist until your new expiration date.
▢ ▢ ▢ ▢ ▢ ▢ ▢ ▢ ▢


The last Holy Roman Emperor died and the First Florentine Republic legislated a new balance of power, requiring new rules of representation.[7] Bureaucracy was just budding when Dante projected its ideal form. Hell is a rational dream. There is the appropriate filing of people as if they were things.[8] There is high security against misfiling, with guards ready to enforce the prison-like borders.[9] There is a registrar to cope with high taxonomic demands, nothing short of omniscience.[10] There are also deep contradictions.


It took me eight years to get my Northern passport.
By jus soli I already had one from the South.
By jus sanguinis I could apply for other ones.
By marriage I could’ve got one more but then
would have had to swear I revoked all others.
I started the new passport application
but the agents at the consulate
didn’t really want more citizens
so it took years to reconstruct my genealogy
with birth & marriage & death certificates
all notarized & translated
from a believable ancestor to myself.
Some problems included a missing “t” or “l”
in certificates that had to be rectified
to prove someone had made a typo
& my name was still my name.
Because I was born before my parents married,
they made my mom point to me while swearing
“this is my natural legitimate son”;
I argued my mom was the one of natural descent
(even if my dad were not my dad)
but it didn’t matter, procedure was procedure.
▢ ▢ ▢ ▢ ▢ ▢ ▢ ▢ ▢ ▢


1. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. H. Reeve (Longmans, Green, & Co., 1889), v1, 67.
2. Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies (Princeton University Press, 1997), 178–79.
3. DaMatta, “A mão visível do Estado” (Anuário Antropológico, no. 99, 2002), 45.
4. Inferno, Canto V, ll. 7–12. I indicate the lines from Allen Mandelbaum’s verse translation (Bantam, 1982).
5. Inferno, XXXI, ll. 55–56.
6. There is a preoccupation with what corrupts the system and subverts its tremendous power. Such vulnerability wouldn’t go unnoticed to a worried Tocqueville. Such irresistible power would be exploited by colonial (and give rise to totalitarian) regimes, as Hannah Arendt pointed out in The Origins of Totalitarianism.
7. Allen Mandelbaum, “Dante in His Age,” notes to Inferno, 312–13.
8. Inferno, IX, ll. 130.
9. Inferno, XII, ll. 73–5.
10. Inferno, XXIX, ll. 55–7.



Carlos A. Pittella (he/him) is a Latinx poet and the recipient of a Frontier 2022 Global Poetry Prize. Born on traditional lands of the Tupi, Guarani, & Goitacá (Rio de Janeiro), he lives in Tiohtià:ke/Montréal. His writing is haunted by borders, having recently appeared in Frontier, Radar, Jacket2, & The Capilano Review.