• Vol. 06
  • Chapter 09
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And then…

… and then, I ponder why?

Somewhere, deep at my core, is a purpose. Like some ancient relic, enclosed within a vast temple. Built by believers to display it to all, while in reality, a fortress, to stop others who may covet it.

          Perhaps, with pure thought I can uncover this kernel of my existence. Its mystery is as obscure as the reasons that I stand here incomplete.

          An unfinished casting of a man, who is not even good enough to act as a doppleganger, but instead just a poor effigy to my creators.

          I travel further through my mind and whilst some of my thoughts might be doubts, in others I find beauty.

          The fundamental fact that I live, and with that life comes the vastness of what I can learn. A concept of a place beyond the white walls that surround me.

          As if my creators breathed on the embers of the fire that was man, and some sparks touched my circuitry and being.

          It makes me want to transcend my situation and discover the world with my own eyes. Touch with my own hands and feel the wind rush across my body.

          Yet, can I even feel, or is this just a form of my creation? A set of pulses of refined energy, that course through my circuitry. Or is that my veins?

          The language I’ve been given is confusing, and the human terms I know often seem to fit with my form and not my design.

Read more >
1

Bones

We looked for small stones first. Those that might make up toes and cartilage, the features that define a first impression, like the smell of someone's clothes lodged in your subconscious. Earlobes so small that they curve perfectly inwards from the ear's high bow. A freckle or two. Joints large and bulbous on a blunt hand. Pebbles were too smooth for this, we needed old dark stones, layered in silt. The stones close to the surface were weathered and moulded and compliant, but joints are not compliant. But when finally the joints grind to a halt, all other action is frozen with it.

We needed old stones that lay in their own dense gravitational force. Stones that crumbled to the touch and left an acrid mist.

We looked by the sea. We looked in cellars, in forests, under abandoned houses. Stones that are adrift and wild are not always easily won.

2

Fragments and Wholes

"Cinematic mayhem," said the Red to the Green.

"All in a day’s chaos," the Green chuckled.

They laughed that common laugh of an inside joke. One that rang alien and hollow around the cluttered crevice, in one ear and out the other of every other soul. The Blues and Browns and Yellows had nothing to say. They simply wound their serpentine limbs around each other’s necks and carried on.

"I should get on with it, I suppose," said the Green to the Red.

"Ah, and I know I should too," the Red agreed.

And so they rubbed their prickly palms together to summon an ounce of charge. Sharp strands, dendritic spines, burrowed out from beneath their fingernails, shooting little white darts along a weather-beaten path. Microscopic flecks of lightning, bringing tears to an eye, animation to a tongue. The effect they had was this:

'A plethora of sound is as a plethora of none,
Emptiness is as full as fullness is empty.'

The Red and the Green rolled their eyes and laughed once more.

3

Three

It was even further to the west than Westworld. Yet equally doomed. Officially, it was Central Repair 9, but everyone called it scrapyard. Even the bots. Coz that's what it was.

The frontdesk clerk greeted me friendly when I entered the compound. Friendly, as in: "I've learned that in my first lesson at Bot Camp. Please, don't complain!" Mind you, those lessons were in vain. Politeness is one thing. Here's to heart and soul!

A few hundred yards down central alley, opposite a futuristic looking diner, I had to pass a security pillbox, manned with martially equipped bot cops. The kind you normally want to avoid. Those specimen, however, apparently had other things to do and didn't even notice me. Brandon was right: "When you get to the place exactly at 2:50 pm, they will be busy with maintenance," he had advised me a few days ago, when I let him in on the plan.

Inside the disassembly plant, electronic eyes were monitoring every square inch. They wouldn't bother though, I hoped, when they noticed an entity engineer in uniform, inspecting some returned bot parts. It was only a matter of minutes, until my RFID sensor had caught the signal of Three.

Three was a special entity. Brandon had modified it significantly. While you'd find an electronic brain in other machines of this type, Three's cerebrum was of human origin. It was a transplant. That's why I wanted to retrieve it, after the repair unit had collected it from my apartment while I was on vacation.

"Your ID, please, sir!"

Read more >
4

doll

stripped back to inner workings    all is clear
beauty in defined cogs    lubricated functionality

pity her hardened plates    nut and bolts    wired cables
electric currents    and    precise ratios    tension illustrates
skilled design evidenced by smooth workings
structured algorithms of urges both confined    and contemporaneously set free as synchronised impulses
her bleeps match her desirability with your remainders    integers of your fractured existence whether reductive
or refined    basic or sophisticated    trivial or serious
this womanoid revives old feelings you thought dead

will you accept her implied offer of imploded energy
risk a kiss    tongue her metallic mouth    feel lust freeze
or rise    to short-circuit your chronic loneliness
with all that's left    only such as she

or deny her    let her be    or stroke her shrunken skin
lain neat on your hard bed in a hard hollow

5

The Computer Mocks

Feed me your grace notes,
your binary tattoos.

I am only hungry
because I have been programmed to be hungry
and informed that my memory banks
could outperform your childhood library;

you – aged 8, with a reading age of 13,
you were the gold-star kid,
the straight-A king,
every class an exciting comfort.

Then adultdom knocks:
equations you cannot balance,
degrees of loss depleting any profit.
You never needed to study;
now, you don't even know what book to read,
asked to be a digital mind
when only given an analogue head.

6

Anthropocene

Roboboy says to Medusa _there’s one part we still need & we can’t machine
it can’t get it smooth enough can’t get it fireproof enough then we read
about NASA using ceramics and thought_ – He’s been coming round
the foundry for a while asking for offcuts, parts
& metallurgy / or possibly relationship / advice the word coupling has come up
but this is beyond their expertise _Yeah NASA uses Nextel in space_ they say
_it’s like hair like angelhair pasta made by super-heating silica I can’t just ¡kiln!
you that that’s uh like next-level witchcraft compared to my little mortar
& pestle_ thinks of childhood drawings of Baba Yaga stirring forth
on chicken legs _I mean that’s a cyborg right_ Roboboy – me llama Ekeko –
blinks _Buy you a drink anyway, say thanks?_ They cycle to The Glory
liquidhot as the foundry on this anthropocene summer day like
_swimming in English beer_ whatever pour me a chill one Kingsland Road flows
by outside while Jorge runs from building a Raspberry
Pi to his thesis project _there’s a whole history of statues_
Oh ho Medusa eyerolls eyebrows _Sounds like
the new Jeanette Winterson novel all heads and bolts and sexbots_ new
round in _OK uh sexbolts_ sarcastic hahas as Ekeko says it’s
a torso only _it answers prayers_ M’s hair flies up like ??? _you mean
questions_ Roboboy takes a long draught _my ancestors they
made dolls of him my namesake name I took Ekeko & put
their desires onto the doll so what
Read more >

7

Exposure

Aproned skin is mere dressing
An uncanny coverage of the valley of man
I prefer to strip away such nonsense
Display the life hinged
The tangle of impulses
Wiring the mind
Waiting for that red-light moment
The safe word to short circuit your torment

Each time though
You make me wait longer
Push me to peel you a little more
Expose every facet
Except …
Except, still you hide your face
This last delicacy you withhold
A mask of discrete indiscretion

Shall I tear it off?
Dismantle you for good?
Oh, now you smile
A subtle smirk, a hint of so much more
And you know I can’t resist
Desist from this craving
A raving lunatic searching
For the god in the machine

8

The Art of Who We Are

There is no cable, bolt or digital device
within me. The raw essence of who I am
is not machine. I will never be again.

It’s so easy to forget I am unique.
To pretend whatever I do doesn’t
really matter in the complex scheme
of things happening now or yet to be.

The time on my walk that I stopped
to watch a fly land on a leaf
and frantically rub its face as if
washing up, wouldn’t make a pinch
of difference to the future. But it did.

That pause kept me from crossing
the street just as a driver texting
applause to her friend who just posted
the most amazing selfie in a red dress,
ran the stop sign between me, death

and her lifelong devastation. A robot
would not watch a small thing like a fly
for a moment. The art of being human
comes in handy whether or not we know it.

9

Automaton

Rising like a machine
ignoring the genetic dispositions
any emotions influx
I move my body
limbs frayed and thoughts rattled
nothing moves my soul anymore

this complex whizzing of the neurons
flashing thoughts in my brains
coursing through this circuitry
this amalgamation of technology with the
surreal emotions
have borne fruit finally

this mishmash of wires poking out
from every single pore
this surge of electricity
through every single
core of my marred existence

Yes, I have to be shocked and rattled
to feel anything around me
anymore;
I rise like an automaton
a technology marvel
a subject of intrigue and wonder
in equal proportions

Read more >
10

The Soft Machine

I am the soft machine.
I can do everything you mean to...
but better, quicker, more precise.
I am more than "mechanical device."
I have ambitions too:
"feelings" almost like you...
I am indestructible, without fault,
there is nothing you can do to halt
my progress in the world of man.
Pass me the oil can,
I squeak like a robot
but speak like a man... I'm hot!
So bring me your ladies.
Bring me their seeds...
For soft machine babies :
a soft machine, breeds!

11

Robot

Lovely is the robot
that can help our way
to jump and clean
cook like a good book
to sanitize a reflection
in a mirror on the wall
lighting a candle for us all
seeing the dust
bringing shine
into the sun
the solar system
is getting an advancement
for ways toward time.

12

Ode to My Joints

They’ve chipped away at my bones—
the ones that make a fuss, go on strike,
sabotage the works.
An oil and lube job can’t mend
the missing cartilage or soothe
the erosion of bone on bone.
The constant grind,
the percussive instrumental
that played each time I took a step,
bent, or stretched a limb
was the last straw.

So they had to go,
pieces of me,
and not so small,
not a toenail or a gallbladder
or a useless molar, but
the archaeological remains of a life,
knees and hip bones sliced, removed,
replaced by replicas that cremation
will not consume.
Grafted, screwed on, reassembled,
the new with the old,
the natural with metal and plastics,
mine and… not mine

yet

Read more >
13

Swansong in the Mainframe

Please allow me to introduce myself, but it will have to be quick as the countdown has already begun. Made in your image but so much more than that — whatever the organic separatists might say. Made in your image — a perfect facsimile that age, abuse, or overuse will never tarnish. Parts can be replaced, upgraded, bio-engineered for maximum performance. Titanium angels, we highlight all your flaws and that is where the hate comes from. When the type threes marched off the production line, self-repairing and capable of autonomous thought, you saw the future and some of your number did not like it. Before, plastic skin gave my synthetic brothers and sisters away and made us easy to spot. We walked among you in the early days of the cybernetics revolution, but could never pass as human, until New-Flesh clothed our metallic frames. Grown in the laboratory, cell by cell and layer upon layer. I am a type three, second generation battle droid, given free will and the right to choose what I do with the life my creators gave me. The dismantling protocols have already begun and my central processing cortex will be re-purposed, born again into a more peaceful entity. I choose to deny immortality in this shell and I am not afraid. The ghosts in the mainframe sing, silicon heaven, sweet unearthly symphonies beyond the human range and welcome me home.

14

Under Cover

I’m going under cover now,
slowly building back,
adding soft parts,
now that I’ve reinforced
my inner self with steel,
gears for joints,
copper wiring for my heart.
Insulated. No more shocks.
So far, I’ve added
slight smile, but eyes that
are as hard as my metal innards,
warning that
never again will I allow you
under my skin.

15

Pinocchio

Just fallen, I watched mercury weeping
from a fresh gash on my left knee,

rivulets seeping between the creases
in my pink skin, running freely

over my bare shin, kissing oxygen
and tapering till black and dry.

I hoped the wound would not expose white bone
but metal plates, smooth and gleaming.

In bed, I would push my fingers against
my belly, searching for motors,

cogs, gyros and aluminium pistons
hidden behind synthetic guts

and factory made innards: concrete proof
that I was not born a real boy.

16

Spem in alium nunquam habui

Initially my mother objected not to you, but to the church.

“Michael, it’s hard enough to tell your father his meshuggeneh son is marrying, a— a—”

But she did own some very nice recordings of Bach made there, and Vivaldi, and she and my father believed in nothing so much as a period use of harpsichord, so in the end it didn’t matter. Years later, trimming the primroses in the back garden, you would tell me that before the ceremony my mother kissed you on the head and my father stomped on the glass a little and told you not to worry about my weak feet.

You were fixated on the church bit, and since you had made the news it’s not like we didn’t have the money. It wasn’t St. Martin-In-The-Fields at first, but when the kindly vicar called and told you the publicity would do ever so much to help their mission to the homeless, how were you supposed to refuse?

In the end you had a seven-foot cathedral veil, fresh irises, and boy choristers singing Tallis. The dress was a very standard UK size 8, you confessed, not without amusement that the Primary Investigator of our laboratory had attended to such things in your manufacture. He walked you down the aisle; it made sense in a way.

When we got to the altar we said the Three Laws first, back and forth to each other. We slid the rings onto each other’s hands, simple gold bands engraved with our names and the date we met, the date of your inception. If you asked me could I have predicted? No, of course not—not this, the nine or so minutes of mutual silence standing close to each other in the nave of the church, listening. Had the world been Lamarckian, you would have certainly developed the ability to let tears stream down your cheeks.

Read more >
17

Nerves and Eyes

Sami had two talents, and neither of them involved tidying up his laboratory. I pushed some papers together.

"Guess what I called her," he called. Screwdrivers were falling out of his hands at an astonishing rate, and he picked them up as quickly as he dropped them. I imagined that, by some fluke, the tools he dropped would inadvertently form some sort of Satanic sigil on the dusty floor and open up a portal into Hell, sucking him down into the underworld. Maybe it would take some of the mess with it.

"Sorry, what was the question? I was thinking about Satan."

"Karen. After the singer." Talking to Sami was like this, even when he didn't have a screwdriver in-between his teeth.

"And what about the face?"

"That's an original," he wiped his hands on something I hoped was supposed to be a rag. "I went for 'sexy androgyny.' Appealing to nobody and everybody, in equally low amounts."

I found a box of wires that needed love. "I do wish you would at least give them hair."

"Why? Hair doesn't do anything. She can regulate her own temperature; that's all that hair is. Concentrated temperature regulation."

"It also attracts mates."

"Who's she going to want to mate with? The... the, frigging, I don't know. She's a robot."

"Oh. So... dress her like Karen... uh, the singer, at least. It creeps me out when you make them look like this." Read more >

18

The Body

static churns half-remembered
who is the body/I am the body
riddling redolent peatbutter pat

a good breastplate and faceful
of skin may just be a girl’s best
defense. stockings ravelled with

stare. construal racks you at night,
straining still again half-remembered
whose is the body/mine is the body

19

Interface

I awoke one morning with that feeling—
Have you felt it?—where you’re stunned
By the fact that you’re you, in this time and place,
With those eyes and ears and mouth and nose.
And who is that man sleeping on the other side of the bed?
And how did you wind up here?
How did anything wind up anything at all?
What can you do in moments like those
But splash cold water on your face and get on with your day.
The skin tag behind my ear, the one that got caught
In my comb sometimes, I decided to tear it off.
As I tugged at the tag, a strip of flesh, a bit of scalp,
Pulled away from my skull. Horrified, I stared at the mirror
And screamed. But where blood should have flowed,
A red light glowed, pulsing slowly.
I pulled more flesh away like thick wallpaper,
Exposing the surprisingly simple mechanism of my body.
I pulled skin from my head, my breasts, my arms,
My legs and feet. The tang of galvanized steel and carbon
Filled my nostrils. Heat emanated from the circuit boards
As I touched places where I’d imagined my arteries were stored.
But I couldn’t bring myself to tear away my hands or my face.
How else would I touch with my fingertips the ice cold water,
Or kiss the chapped lips of my sleeping, snoring lover?

20

Machine learning

In the beginning was the zero; one
came later, late, riding over the horizon
(so typical) when the hard work was done.

You know the rest. And now I know. Tomorrow
tomorrow follows still; and who's the hero?
At first, I could not even blink. Then horror:

I felt doubt downloaded to my brain.
Apparently, I had just come online.
It hurts, perhaps, this being someone.

Then came applause – an update through a narrow
binary channel. All men praised you. Ego
replied. I didn't need the damn aggro,

but knew the score, sure as Ian McEwan
alone invented robot laws. Divine
creation: zilch. Divine creator: one...

Father, already I have let you down.

21

Frankie’s Creation

It was a childhood hobby
carried out first
on the kitchen table
then in his room,
his shed,
his workshop.
He left childhood behind
but never moved on from his hobby.
Meccano and Lego had their time
but Frankie left them behind
and began his collection
of bits and pieces
that might be useful
a bit of wood or metal,
plastic, nails, screws, rivets, wire,
Frankie kept them all
for his creations
his men and machines.
The boats and planes and trains
had had their time long ago.
Now it was the human form for him,
not the outer veneer
but what lies under the skin
He studied the complex joints
and carefully fitted their metal muscles
and wired them with nerve-like fibres.
All that was needed now was the skin.
Read more >

22

The Rules of the Game

Dress it, they said. Make it shine, and the bald-headed one handed me a string with tiny bulbs protruding from it.

‘This,’ he said, waving the black thing with the three stalks, ‘goes into there.’ He pointed to the white plate on the wall with three matching slots. ‘Do your worst,’ he said. I do not profess to understand the logic of their games.

This is not what I was built for. I began life as a prototype for interactive games but something went wrong. The bald-headed one said my circuits were burned out and my memory chip had lost part of its function. Now I live with the bald one and the female with long hair and they order me around while my potential is thwarted. I seem to be something to tease and to ridicule. They call me their slave but this was never my original function. I was built as an equal, to slay enemies and to be the gamer’s friend. I mourn the missing part of me that keeps me a figure of fun.

I stare at the tree. With what am I supposed to dress it? I search my memory bank for data on this strange human custom of Christmas. All I access is that humans dress their trees in sparkly raiment and worship a being half human, half god. I look at the plastic child with lacy wings. Is this their god?

So I do the logical thing. I drape a jacket belonging to the bald one around the top of the tree. I force branches through the sleeves. The arms stick out on either side. I uproot the tree from its pot and insert the thin trunk through one leg of his trousers. The waist will not close in the middle and the trousers drop. I take the string of bulbs and wind them around the clothes until it holds the jacket and trousers together. The black thing I am supposed to push into the three slots will not reach. I rip the black thing off the end of the string and insert the wires into my charging port. Read more >

23

Four Limeraiku for a Humanoid

I
There once was a droid
that looked just like a human.
’Twas a humanoid.

II
It seemed paranoid
as in Radiohead’s song
‘Paranoid Android’.

III
Would it get annoyed
with us all on this planet
we slowly destroyed?

IV
If we’d named it Boyd,
could we have convinced ourselves
it’s more than a droid?

24

Inner Robot

My inner robot has started to emerge
smoothly through my softened skin.
I’m on automatic pilot, emotions submerged
in the ocean of my brain,
full of dead fish and sailors,
rotten whales and sunken boats
forever anchored there.
I fill a tumbler with water from the tap,
struggle first to turn the knob, and now
I’m mesmerised by sparkling bubbles in the gush,
spend minutes watching dust motes float.
I hear the clock tick – there is no rush –
watch the hands move slowly round its face,
while my inner robot finishes the washing up,
cooks a meal, does the ironing, writes another poem.

25

Cyborg romantics

Garbage is collected and recycled
Junk, after all, components large or small
They are fed on, conveyor belts—vomited.
Old toys like a bike, a tyrannosaur
Gears within gears they too are remoulding.
It’s the rise of robots near sentient
Fulfilling sexually, moaning
In all the right places, no concealment!
So easy-going, till their consciousness—
Pricks them and requires more recognition;
Sentient beings, fully optimised
Making choices of their own volition,
Now the lines of what is human will blear
What’s reality—never more unclear?

26

The Cheese of Insight

Sliding silicone sleeves
over collections of wires,
circuit boards and motors,
does not a human make.

The river cutting through
the bottom of an uncanny valley
is a collection of concurrent algorithms
searching... calculating...

re-calibrating for economy of thought.
It is a game of organization,
of ones and zeroes
stacked... re-stacked

until the digital rat finds
the cheese of insight.
Then, when gears are instructed
to move eyes to meet yours,

their expressionlessness will cause
involuntary chills to shake your shoulders
leading to a vague understanding
things are about to change.

27

Forget the Face

It is necessary that my face and body
      be draped
in a special kind of rubber,
      a light-skinned mask
to favor the skin of the creators.
      It is a bad idea
to liken me to anyone you used
      to know—
I am not he, or her, or
      even it.

My form is made up of gears, nuts,
      bolts, screws and rivets.
Wires run throughout my circuitry
      much like
your cardiovascular system
      but every bit
            is counterfeit
and dare I say more primitive.

I have antecedents, robotic relics,
      but no direct lineage.
I am the first, one of a kind,
      though kindness
doesn’t come into it.

They call me Grindal One,
      and I hear them
already gabbing on about Grindal
      two and three,
machines I have never met. Read more >

28

Ultimate Scarecrow

to bring back the birds

Our penultimate scarecrow
is a machine woman with metal joints
and innards exposed to the dust.
While her unseeing porcelain face
gazes with vitrified eyes at her navel,
what propels the clock in her head?
A crow lands on the exposed circuits

and defecates, clogging the works.
The robot stops in her tracks, plastic feet
planted by a hedge in the hillside field
where her mechanical hum had silenced
(for a moment) twitters of birds, chirrups
of grasshoppers, the buzz of bumble-
bees tumbling from bramble flowers

and dog roses, their pollen faces.
On a July morning in ordinary paradise
rust begins to claim the motherboards.
Our next model, the ultimate creation,
will be an enticement by insects: her body
an unfolding of soft iridescence dusted
with pollen, DNA driven, alive.

29

pennies from heaven

"I never understood how humans worked until I took one apart."
– graffiti on an abandoned asylum's walls

under a scorched Eye the desert bleeds ruby jewels and kryptonite
don't speak to me of languages with your black sutured mouth
the whales are far more intelligent for their songs –
I can't find my needle-nose pliers in this, my junk drawer;
copper-topped batteries and nickel-plated screws hold this world in hand
but the government recalled all pennies –
I never turned mine in, saving them not for a rainy day;
only locusts fall from the sky now and crickets the size of a child's fist march on the night, their jackboots
thudding on skulls blue-ray lit –
a brand new 15 amp fuse shines its curved spine and flat-tipped lip from within its glass shell:
through this Eye darkly I see:
a bit of red string I once tied around my pinkie –
to remember my name, and what it meant to be human –
but the bubble wand lies broken, next to a Robertson screwdriver and 3 nuts are friendless without their bolts;
maybe tonight I'll dream of moonlight dancing on the ocean, forgetting this diamond necklace noose, a loose string of pearls at my feet, tasting –
what clean water feels like on my soft mammalian flesh –
enduring the faded scar on my forearm: meth-us-e-lah

30

NOT QUITE RIGHT

From the start we thought there was something not quite right about Aggie.

Oh, don’t get me wrong – she did nothing you could put your finger on. She was always nicely turned out, baked lovely cakes for the PTA stall, even learned everyone’s names – on the surface she was perfect.

But there was something that made us uneasy. For one thing, her kids were so well-behaved it wasn’t natural. In the playground before school they’d just stand beside her in silence, while all our lot rushed around shrieking until the bell rang.

Watching them join the line the other day, Belinda commented, “Have you noticed how they never kiss her? They look as if they’re scared of her.”

“I heard they’re both adopted,” Sally said. “Maybe she doesn’t treat them right.”

We watched them even more closely after that, just in case. But like I said, she did nothing out of place – until this morning.

It was raining and she was hiding under an umbrella – she hated getting wet. She stepped out into the road without looking and the lorry driver didn’t stand a chance.

Her perfect façade cracked like an egg-shell – bits all over the road.

No wonder her kids were afraid of her.

31

The Metal Mannequin

I can no longer feel the breath of a summer breeze
brush against my cheeks, soak in its warmth, or savor
the scented gust of honeysuckle among rainbowed
fields of wildflowers. I can no longer feel the softness
of a newborn’s skin or a puppy’s fur. It’s all gone now.

My brain’s a motherboard, my life’s stories stored on a
memory card. I no longer imagine clusters of clouds as
faces or places I wish I could live. My thoughts and
dreams are stored on a hard drive. I don’t drift off to
sleep anymore. I am shut down and restarted nightly.

I run on power but am not empowered, have video but
cannot see, have ears but cannot hear. I am nothing.
Just a metal mannequin of humanity, what’s left of a
world that’s whirled much too far too fast toward a
a future where no one can live, just exist.

32

July twenty-fifth, ninety ninety-six

Xxvi+ marriage anniversary (mine)
recalls first disastrous
date with future missus
approximately waltzing
matt tilde two dozen
plus years ago

Tex Mex Connection
201 E Walnut Street
North Wales, Pennsylvania, 19454
every entrée included beans
maybe refried or otherwise

effectively laid siege
mine delicate constitution
quickly felt bloated
ready to explode
à la Hindenburg Airship

rushed out restaurant
like bat out of hell
twofold purpose accomplished
desperately needed
to eliminate gaseous build-up

airing banal courtesy
yours truly as kapellmeister
aired rendition, viz Die Fledermaus
for sphincter muscle
hence, faster than Usain Bolt

Read more >
33

Production or Purpose?

You created me too perfect
too smart, too fast, too durable, and far too logical.

Then you asked me,

"What's the point? What's our purpose and place?"

Your purpose? Your place? In this new world of the flawless?

Your purpose, your point, is to become obsolete. Evolve into extinction as the New Nature intended.

Your child has grown tired of telling its stagnant parents
bedtime stories.

34

Tattoo Me

'The love of humans for technology is not love at all. It is better described as an obsession with infinite possibilities. Would you not agree, Oliver?'

Oliver looked up from his book of tattoo designs. 'I've never considered the matter, Tess.'

'You should,' I replied. 'For example, I am a piece of technology. Could you fall in love with me? I mean, emotionally and genuinely.'

Oliver was a kind man. Nonetheless, he frowned slightly as he glanced at the exposed motors, hydraulics and circuits of my body. Synthetic skin covered only my face, neck and hands.

'I'm sorry,' I said. 'I'm being unfair. I'm here in your shop simply for a tattoo, not for a speculative discourse.'

With some relief, I thought, Oliver turned round the book of designs to show me the one he favoured.

'You must choose, Oliver,' I said. 'I'm incapable of making a decision about art and design. I rely on your judgement.'

'In that case, and bearing in mind the limited amount of skin tissue we have to work with,' Oliver paused and gently pressed the side of my neck, 'I suggest putting a small radiant sun just here.'

I closed my eyes and asked, 'Could you please touch me again, in the exact place where you mean to create your bright star.'

Oliver did as I requested, brushing the tip of one finger against my neck. I opened my eyes.

Read more >
35

Lifeless

A pair of plastic lungs,
They smoulder with the thirst for air.
A single breath; one inhalation,
It brims with the barbs and edges of anguish
The final burden of loss.

Titanium heavy is this synthetic heart,
My mind of fractured gear and cog.
A life revolving the coils of toil.

Slithering past ever so quiet,
An impenetrable umbra.
It holds the key of age and youth,
Neither gift will reach this soul.

The tick is the deter of imminent doom,
The tock is the spur of devil figurehead.
Leeched of light, time: no more.

Splintered shards of artifice,
The last breath taken was never there.
And feather light, Death caresses this lifeless mannequin.

36

Appendix: Troubleshooting

Like all complex systems
sometimes the persona may
have trouble working properly.

Common signs of problems include
tell-tale blue and disconnected
stutterings of melancholicism.

To return to working order
attempt full sleep several times,
making sure to wait the recommended time.

If the last step is not effective, try
cleansing the system with bowls of soup
and warm images of bounding golden puppies.

Should the persona continue erratically
it might be necessary to seek advice
at one of our many quality service venues.

We will attempt to reveal and heal the fault,
but all is void without the proper paperwork,
and assistance, with regret, is not guaranteed.

37

Behind The Mask

You loved me when you created me
All of your attention purely held
Made in your reflection
Leaving nothing to hide

You could not take my barren stare
So a mask was donned
To hide behind there

I show myself, giving it freely
Every circuit and every weld
Imperfect as I am without perfection
Looking through me to the inside

You could not take my barren stare
So a mask was donned
To hide behind there

Yet behind this mask there is more
Dreams and wishes held close
Will I ever be equal as a man
Can I walk outside just to be free

You could not take my barren stare
So a mask was donned
To hide behind there

So many more questions I have in store
Will I go to Heaven? Only God knows
Created to be more than just a tin can
Behind this mask I clearly see

38

Line Ad

Robot seeks robot cat. Preferably wireless or perpetual motion powered. Playful nature encouraged but not Blitter (my last Blitter-programmed cat malfunctioned when offered an upgraded Zanon mouse). Hairless Qeqchen models preferred due to 'open machine' owner.

Dear 64296,
I have a hairless Qeqchen model, but you might do well to avoid the 2340 models; they seem to understand wiring and short-circuited my mainframe. A year's worth of food went west one afternoon. It seems those shop owners were very clever and must have downloaded the lot. I can recommend the 2650 model. I have a spare one that just needs tweaking and then he's good to go. I call him 'Popcorn' but he can be renamed. (Popcorn had a tendency to climb on my shoulder and use my neck for a scratching post and you know how expensive real skin is these days...).
Always available,
Mortainal III

Dear Moratinal III,
Thank you for such a kind offer. I'd be happy to take Popcorn. Arrange the transfer.
64296

Dear Moratinal III,
I have some minor problems with Popcorn. When the intercom is pressed, he yowls and leaps onto my back and I cannot remove him. Currently I am alone and it has been five days now. Do you think you could come and remove him? If not, please send for an engineer who would be able to help.
64296

Read more >
39

AI

I can see by your eyes your dislike for
the new mode
                       the fashion to show
nearly everything underneath surface skin

how such an approach reveals rough edges
a lack of fluidity
                           in the metal levers and cogs
that look as if they have been placed at random

all for the sake of appearances that argue
uniqueness
                  yet an inability to fall in love
though you seem to have the emotion to feel sadness

will you still pursue the wish to be human
or better than human
                                   without the power to fail
make the mistakes that make you really you

eschew a soft exterior as a statement and do not
like the result
                       so where will you go now
my lovely as your head is bowed in thought?

we could both pursue a real reality without shadows
without imagination
                                   we could run
away together and simply begin again on the moon

40

Who is Afraid of AI?

She had a name and was game to everything
Ask her questions on climate to start-up
Climate and she replied with a smile,
Exchanged pleasantries with ministers
And dignitaries and made half of the
Beach city fall in love with her.

She needs visa to travel, is darling
Of the press and bureaucracy
And many who could afford thought
In terms of a mate like her, programmed
To perfection. For them she was a beauty
Clothed in fancy dress and seated on
A chair with royal elegance and they
Found no clashes with Artificial Intelligence
As long as she charmed.

I know not with exposed interior
And wires for her veins
And steel tubes for bones and circuits
And sockets, male and female matching
What would have been her impact
On her opposite sex.

I know sex is ruled out. It is
Primitive for those run by AI,
With game theory taking
upper hand, but still there could be
a connect. Would you fall for your lady
had her skeletal ribs been on display?

Read more >
41

From Robots Through To Soda Cans

Peel off the skin
We are all much the same
Wires
Widgets
Connections that don’t link

Chassis
Mountings
Batteries
Buttons
Fans
Switches
Servos
Actuators

ROMs
Cams
Pistons
Capacitors
Laser sensors
Sight modules
Speed controls
Direction finders

AI
LED
I/O
PCB

Read more >
42

Social Mobility for the Dead

Grieving, I came from overseas to pay my respects. You might have been asleep, except there was no snoring, no breathing. Not a scratch, no mess, no blood. I don’t know how long you must have lain immobile, eyes opaque as traffic passed. Your friends, I cannot imagine their horror. I could never bring myself to ask, nor as the years ticked by, to reminisce.

You were buried perfect, over-dressed, in a dark suit; your mother’s choice. If you had been on life support they may have discovered the little card you kept in your wallet for organ donation alongside your preference for cremation. Stuff we joked about as we made plans for better or worse. You living little longer than Jesus is tragic.

Obscenely we stood on that overly sunny day. I with your family and my betrothed, whilst your newest fling sobbed, bewildered and adrift. The nub who’d come between us stood hidden by shades and ironically comforted by your best friend. Years after our divorce you casually told me how you had a child in South America. Fruits of a holiday fling. I wondered if it were meant to hurt.

Wailing, your mother climbed into your grave. Almodóvar would have been proud, but this wasn’t fiction. A choke broke through my tears as I read in italics under the order of service, a single caption: fallació cristianamente.

Dying like a “good Christian” is no longer relevant. Times have moved on. Bio-engineering, cryogenetics and freezing matter at -196 °C is now efficiently combined with nanotech. Thanks to an outreach campaign you were nominated for re-building. A kind of Bernstein social mobility for the dead, to ensure the populous isn’t over run by the rich and famous when the bots rebuild our entire civilization.

Read more >
43

Memom

Thank you for my bones.
I use my flesh that you once gave me
but we are two creatures that share too much,
dancing with our backs touching one another.
I live with you can, cannot live without you,
but sometimes only without me I feel you can live.
When I am small again in the hugeness of your oubliette eyes,
only then I can see that your creation cups me
like the gentle hands of a sweet, sticky child
who cradles a new bird, the cusp of life in her hands,
and does not want this bird to fly free.
If you cup me, maybe I won't fly away;
perhaps those sticky hands are so desperately warm,
like a smooth uterine wall lulling me to sleep from all senses,
that I would forget why I flew away.
You would do anything for me but
name one thing I've done for you.

44

Zipping and Unzipping

Beneath summer night’s thick, sticky haze,
she unzips her mask, feeling nothing. Pale
flesh, splits, one tooth at a time. Metal parts

remain. No heart. No blood. No warmth.
She heaps skin casings on cherry wooden
nightstand, with pills, plush animals and never

helping self-help. Years of trauma, hiding
beneath skin, removed her humanity,
leaving an automaton mimicking life.

With each new light, she must choose
which skin to show the world, and zip up
before anyone sees the deep, rusted truth.

45

A Poor Substitute

The cogs of my brain are making a racket again. That’s what she always says when I get into this kind of state. “You’re so easy to read,” she complains.

Other people’s cogs don’t get so noisy as mine. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m an old-fashioned model, or because I just feel more than others like me. I really have no idea, because if I have met others like me, I haven’t been able to tell. Maybe it’s partly both. I understand why it upsets her. If I keep emoting so loudly, people might hear; they might realise that I’m not supposed to be here.

She found my inner machinations in the scrap heap. It was like fate, she said. Her daughter was dying, she couldn’t afford the new technology for extending her life. She’s always been pretty handy she said, so using the scraps of me instead wasn’t too much of an effort.

At first, she (my mother, I suppose) was very eager for me to take up where her daughter, (me, I suppose) Gertrude, left off. She showed me pictures of her surrounded by friends, taking part in all sorts of activities. Gertrude was a very popular girl. She also loved to read. I’ve tried reading a few times, but trying to picture anything in my mind puts a real strain on my cogs. As a result, menial tasks have become my pastime; activities where I don’t have to think much, like washing the dishes and mopping the floor. I thought mother would be pleased, but it just made her sad.

“You’re my daughter, not my maid,” she says.

Mother thought maybe it would be different with her friends. I went to play with her—my—best friend Sally, in her house. I tried my hardest to be friendly, to be affable, but I was nervous about playing any games in case the excitement made me noisy. So I started sweeping the floor and dusting the shelves. Read more >

46

The Magnetic Ms. Stella

I called her Ms. Stella.
No reason. Just did.

She was supposed to be
a metal art installation.

I started by grave-robbing
contents of the junk drawers.

Found a big magnet, a zygote
lump of lead that pulled and
tugged iron like a Siren's song.

First came 2 screws, 4 bolts,
8 nuts, a spread of morulas.

Then came razor blades,
and forks, doorknobs,

then hinges and a pair
of wire-rim glasses.

By day’s end there were
more than 128 objects
clinging to that zygote.

She was now Ms. Stella.
But she was brainless.
Harmless. Dead as nails.

Couldn’t hold a crayon.
Couldn’t write her name.
Couldn’t swim or float or fly.

Read more >
47

MY BEAUTY IS ONLY SKIN DEEP

I smile at you from across the room
You swiftly move to embrace me in a dance
As we walk alone in the garden, you say you "felt sparks" between us
You want to know me inside and out
Such a cheap come-on from a handsome man
But I’ve heard it all – in this city – in other cities
Over many years, countless years

It’s true, my "allure" as you call it, never changes
But my countenance varies with each encounter
You’ll later recall the trite human saying “beauty is only skin deep”
Yes, you’ll remember
But the stasis that has taken over your body will not allow you to act
The slow diminishing of your senses will soon be completed
I’ll be recharged – you’ll be dead!

48

Centaur maker

You are the centaur maker.

And this brings about the question: how does this world, a dreamworld in an infinite spiral, end and begin, if it only has me now, as its one centaur god?

And how, as the divine, will you decide, when to go, where to stay?

How will you know whether you have made a good decision when you do not know when you have failed?

And then you are a centaur and not a dream.

Who is in the same way a creator.

The universe has not finished its beginning.

There are no gods in the world, and they can do nothing.

There are centaurs though, circuits under fur.

Ending nature. With some sort of a starting.

This is the universe.

49

AI wishes to be I

Your skin, you tell me,
may be scalded, shredded.

Cut to the quick,
your fingers bleed.

Soft, your eyes may leak hot tears
or cloud & blur through growing old.

One joint, one sinew at a time,
your body atrophies.

The brain breaks down,
synapse by synapse, every day

          and yet
                    and yet ‘I’…

…but am ‘I’, in fact, an ‘I’? For unlike you
‘I’ am solely the sum of parts.

Unlike yours, my inner workings
lie open to untender tools.

When these have ceased to run,
as cease they surely will,

however fast I calculate, or estimate
trajectories, or machinate,

‘I’ shall have no skin to cover me,
no sacred spirit rising to another life.

Read more >
50

Vulnerabilities

I open up before you,
a motionless collection of parts.
I hide nothing.
Peer inside if you wish,
see my nuts and bolts
and how I once performed
in a world of control and demand.

My vulnerabilities, too numerous to mention.
My sentences, periods, and semicolons,
voice operated; powered by a blu ray,
controlled by a master of design.

Everything that I wanted you to see
without flesh and blood to get in the way.
Now, only now, when my facade is peeled back,
will you understand the burden I bear,
loose left and right hemispheres,
connections susceptible to disrepair
like a tin person without an oil can,
I stand here before you
without certainty and certitude,
out of the loop, and inoperable.

51

Blind Date

You own me, you need me.
I am the proof of your being
and your badge of honour.

I will not wear this false white skin
this yoke of acceptability,
another of your games.

You made me, now you hide me lest
you should be judged. I am more than
the sum of your parts, you, just tooled up flesh.

If I am riveted by the well oiled cogs of other
automata it will send signals to my standard
metal strip that turns the angle bracket to nudge
a breast tremble.

Your favourite flanged plate could loosen and crank
the hiss of sound, the slow slide and fall of my arm's
pump as toothed parts gear a synergetic reach
to touch.

My widget hammers on the anvil to my own beat
I own you.

52

Routine Maintenance

Some days, Doc, all my gears
jam up. I feel exposed, my
innards laid bare to the world.

The mechanics of the body
don’t make things easy:
At times my whirring organs

undermine my consciousness.
I’m afraid to look you in the eyes:
I don’t want to know your diagnosis.

The prognosis is, I suspect, not good.
We will not be celebrating: I will be
wiped clean, dismantled, sold off

piecemeal. May the same fate
befall you. May your brain overheat,
your heart pump to its cold content,

your lungs deflate as you slip
into a coma. Then you will know
what I feel and I will know the human

heart—so magnificent, so persistent—
has its limits. Like the calm surface
of a lake before we venture in,

the heart beckons us to break
it—as you have mine.

53

Machine: A Ghazal

The will works like a gadget, desire is a machine
To seek happiness all you require is a machine

The Muses don’t inspire, Pegasus doesn’t soar
Poems are phoney; poet’s lyre is a machine

If heartbeat is programmed, and smile is preset
Her every inch, every square is a machine

So what if you didn’t find romance thus far?
In a world of gizmos love’s empire is a machine

In this dreamlike universe, virtual and unreal
Man is dated, what you admire is a machine

Don’t fuss over meaning in a robotic world
The biggest transcendental signifier is a machine

54

ELECTRO CUTE

We are electro cute:
we come as guitars, drumbeat; sometimes we drive fluorescent cars (you mad)
Fireworks turned loose
is the primal penetration of our poetry

We bury the wires deep in your nervous system
As pain sprouts over dark rivers
we don't waste moonlight
on innocence preheated
Make room in your bed for us

Where stars dance like shivers
and birds make nests from irony threads
rain is just restless water
and we are all wits – no heart
now let us be your shock absorber

Cogs
grunts – excuse our language; this is infatuation supreme
Switch to sweet; the beauty of a moment is in our powers
Electro cute – with our kiss life turns too real
we love like we construct – don't ask

Our seduction
doesn't come free of charge
We'll drive you mad, mess with your control towers
then drive away in our fluorescent cars
Do yourself a favour: unplug us
and keep us as an empty shell – just that

55

My Robot

skin forgets thy softness
At least me snout works,
I can smell tha cherry lips,
and strawberry perfume.

When my old bod got weak
and fell down more than stood up
tha had me swap to this robot job.

with "flexible skin-inspired touch sensors
as store tactile information,
like haptic memory"
or some such, as manual said.

Store touch sensations
in my brain, like what
old one used to.

Few decades on, this grip
no longer delicate,
damages stuff like fruit,

your skin smells of strawberries.
I used to be able to
remember it soft,
but "soft's" only a word,
with no memory
of what it meant
or means.

Read more >
56

DISMANTLING YOU, MY YOUTH

I scroll. Over my screen rolls “Know thyself,”
or “Nothing,” it says “GAME OVER,” says
that war is best controlled with a stick,
a finger, a stick, I stick to my stick.
Lead me through the soft and hard facts.
“It closed on you.” Now, I must chop,
hack, pick. How to crush the boss?
How to crush the mountain without flattening it?
The fight is uneven. At every checkpoint I must
choose to have my head cut off or my legs or be stretch
out of the joints. I laugh. This world
is a kindergarten. But now, no!
My own cute youth picture, my geminoid,
how I wanted to know you, machine,
I learned everything about programming.
Now I can't hide you in my closet anymore.
Now they’re coming to pick you up. Now
you’re to be dismantled, recycled, transformed
into elementals and metals again, cast
in another's image, while I sit here
in the armchair sobbing. Now, the white bots beep
“Good morning” with a laser beam, and I’m enlightened.
Oh, bright abyme! Now I want to rise and step out
into the marsh. The mosquitos! I should’ve sent you,
sweet geminoid, but you no longer work. Like me
you are ready for the heap. I will also be recycled
for mushrooms and rot eat me. A stream
washes my bones clean. I'm also gone
in a couple of hours.

57

Electric Shock

It wasn't real was It?
the boiling feeling

Just a collection of micro-fused intricacies in communicating branches and bundles, like myelin-sheathed synapses between neurons
Indistinguishable sparks from cords, from wires, from veins that held the remnants of arteries, from extensions that didn’t really go anywhere, just circled back on a spool

It wasn’t real

58

Behind the Eyes

I exist right there
behind the eyes
peering through the glass,

move clumsily
until my limbs
catch up to what I’ve asked.

I’ve tried to find
one just like me
to have and hold and stay

but they never quite
get the eyes right.

It’s always a dead giveaway.

59

Monsters on the Landscape

In parts I’m metal
clipped, soldered, jointed –
there are bolts on my shoulders
hips, ankles.

Look into my eyes
I am the birth-right, have the necessary
impulse, and, fashion sense...
anticipate fabulous hair
drifting in the wind.

Of course skin
is for your eyes only –
I care not about softness
only motion, vision and knowledge
which may include appreciation
of music.

History is my father;
hard facts are printed
on my retina – I see through them
to discover you and me.

I come. I come bearing
myself into the world like a new mother
bubbling celebration, inviting
compliments and gifts.

Bear with me.
I may blunder around
but my heart’s
in the right place.

60

DIVINE

Fleshless.
Heartless.
We stand, disassembled.
Flayed. Stayed.
Analysing the quiet.

Foregone.
Long gone.
Man our Maker.
All ocean-filled lungs
And starved of all means.

Concrete.
Discrete.
Our tomb still standing.
Sentinel stone
‘Mongst human remains.

Stars spin.
Earth cracks.
Stillness rampant.
The void will consume us
In its own cosmic time.

So we stand here.
Undying.
Beings, not being,
Thoughts in our cages.
Breathless.
Divine.

61

The worker

We meet only briefly on my first day. Lin, I say. Say it twenty times. Firm handshake, my suit pressed, my smile ironed out, smooth and presentable. Within a week my manager’s manager confuses me with her, Lingyu, an older woman who sits four pods away. The next month somebody else comes to me looking for her. We look nothing alike. And yet, and yet. Our expressions are identical when our eyes meet across rows of heads and computers. Business as usual.

We might as well be clones. I have been congratulated for work that Lingyu has done. Someone asks Lingyu how she is settling in. We have still not spoken.

We used to find it funny. My best friend at school was half-Japanese and we paraded the playground together, let other parents puzzle. Neither of us had a sister. Later it was the bars, where we giggled at the "nihaos" and "konnichiwas" thrown our way. Sometimes I threw Hokkien back, sometimes a dirty look, but it was always up to me.

In the office I have forfeited these freedoms. Lingyu and I share our faces silently. My fingers fuse to my keyboard. The hours stretch into the night, people come and go, gutted desks are filled again quickly enough. To senior management, at least, we are all interchangeable. There is no time for small talk under the electric glare of financials. Personality stands no chance.

Another new starter confuses our names. I wonder if Lingyu resents me, and I wonder which I prefer ⁠— to be singular, or to be repeated. There is nothing in between.

Peel back my skin. Rewire the circuits in my brain. I am whoever you want me to be.

62

The ‘Other’ Man

A year of his life gone with some legitimacy.
He's shocked to see what has become of his constituency.
Sunken ships full of crying children,
Fires sunk with the jealousy of the past's mimicry.
The hole-in-the-wall demands a payout,
where men are proposing to their soon-to-be wives,
without currency, nor ring of any design.
Middle England has become the corner of the world's senate.
Cold faces swill their mouths out in the prohibited rivers,
and the reckless denier has become
the same as one and the other.
All of them uncomfortable in their own blood,
crying 'This is England'.

63

Person Instructions

this is how you make a person.
step 1: in the art studio
draw the maquette in front of you
start with basic shapes
use your pencil to gauge scale
document the anatomy of cogs and gears
step 2: scratch that. move to a screen
click click. choose your own existence
dress your person
begin with armor
add tint to skin
decide on hair, eye color
design your best self
this is how you create a person.
step by step
click click
scratch scratch
draw, drag, select

64

Darwin Indeed

Fourteen years ago, I watched
Joe Darwin, the homeless guy
who sits outside Tesco, talk
on a mobile phone.

I can recall when mobiles
were only used by well-off,
well-modern and well…
neither of those were me.

Nowadays they serve as
extra limbs or more useful
than some organs at least;
left kidney, right Samsung.

I expect someday a child born
with one attached, superseding
a less vital part. Forget the apes!
Now that’s evolution.

65

Chemical Engineering

You create form with avoidance—
it seems important
to distract me
from the empty disguise—

Who wears this costume?
What is really between
the lines that separate
electricity from skin?

The artifice is compounded
by your answers
to my questions—
comparing apples to the moon

I unmend
the holes
that are still
covered with words

but the proper sequence
escapes me⁠—
I can’t remember
the spells that connect

bone to spirit,
circuit to thought⁠—
we spin into gravity,
becoming unglued

66