Having read a lot of poems by Heather McHugh—recipient of a Stranger Genius Award in 2007—does not necessarily equip you to make any sense of the poem she has in The New Yorker this week. Not unless you talk tech. The poem is called "Hackers Can Sidejack Cookies," and I read it the other night in line at a grocery store and was so lost I did that cerebral fake-out "I am so lost in this poem's mysteries and that must be the point" thing, and then I went home and did some Googling, since an italicized note at the top explains the poem is "a collage-homage to Guy L. Steele and Eric S. Raymond"—who? yet more poets I've never heard of?—only to discover that Steele and Raymond are eggsperts in deep-nerd jargon and, respectively, the author and editor of The New Hacker's Dictionary. Sure enough every word in the poem I didn't know ("oif," "ooblick," "dogcow," "moof") is hacker vernacular.
The poem is here.
To get the most out of a poem built out of information superhighway jargon you have to immerse yourself in the information superhighway: frustrating at first, yes, but kinda fun and pretty brilliant, finally. You probably know what a cookie is ("a small string of text stored on a user's computer by a web browser...containing bits of information such as user preferences"), but do you know what "sidejack" means? Here are some terms to help you through merely the title and first stanza, compiled by yours truly (hat tip: internet):
• sidejack v. also called "session hijacking," it refers to "the exploitation of a valid computer session—sometimes also called a session key—to gain unauthorized access to information or services in a computer system. In particular, it is used to refer to the theft of a magic cookie used to authenticate a user to a remote server" (source).
• beige toaster n. a Macintosh computer (source).
• maggotbox n. "An even more derogatory term than Macintrash" (source).
• bit bucket n. "jargon for where lost computerized data has gone" (source).
• data sink n. "a device or part of the computer that receives data" (source).
• farkled adj. "a synonym for hosed" (source).
• hosed adj. "a somewhat humorous variant of 'down,' used primarily by Unix hackers. 'Hosed' implies a condition thought to be relatively easy to reverse" (source).
• weenie n. "a derogatory play on 'Unix wizard,' common among hackers who use Unix by necessity but would prefer alternatives. The implication is that although the person in question may consider mastery of Unix arcana to be a wizardly skill, the only real skill involved is the ability to tolerate (and the bad taste to wallow in) the incoherence and needless complexity that is alleged to infest many Unix programs" (source).
That took forever. You're going to have to look up the rest. (Best one? "Ooblick." Explains this computer-jargon dictionary: "A bizarre semi-liquid sludge made from cornstarch and water. Enjoyed among hackers who make batches during playtime at parties for its amusing and extremely non-Newtonian behavior; it pours and splatters, but resists rapid motion like a solid and will even crack when hit by a hammer. Often found near lasers." This site elaborates: "most hackers don't smoke and many don't drink; thus, the need for such stuff as ooblick.")
Skipping ahead to the last three lines of the poem: "the daughter of the programmer / has got her period. It’s all about wetware at last, / and wetware lives in meatspace."
God DAMN I love Heather McHugh.