Two centuries today since the last android.
I remember them. I shared
the general – well-polled – dislike
of their unconvincing skin, stupidity,
and monotonous toneless desire
to please. Though of course I understood
the motive for these: artificial
intelligence mustn’t progress
beyond a certain point. But I never
joined the debates
about consciousness, pain, selfhood,
“things with faces” … cowardice, perhaps.
Now the vast machines
plough and sow the varied vegetable fields
along the road; a many-limbed
an irrigation sprinkler gleams in the sun.
Somewhere robots stand by controls
coordinating the planting;
somewhere a person sits
coordinating them. The friends I’m visiting
live far from me;
this annual drive is a ritual,
cherished among the many that make up life.
We seldom use the word relationship;
one refers to specific couples, trios, networks
(and the occasional tragedy)
as nouns, paradigms,
and everyone knows what one means.
They greet me, Don and Shulamith,
with the superb liqueur
they distill. We stand on the verandah
watching my car quietly
come round the house and fold itself away.
A wind has risen; ducks bob on the pond.
The children have gone, to one or another town;
they left me, of course, their regards.
Then for an hour I admire,
in their wide-mouthed vases (whose potter
Don praises in detail), the arrangements.
A branch from one of the new, accessible
pines forms almost a circle,
symbolizing – smiles Shulamith –
my return, from their point of view, from a long
journey. Daffodils, tulips,
but mostly the bluestem
and other grasses. Some dusty twigs
representing grief at the kids' departure, with
a poppy for Acceptance.
Then, in stages, we eat.
A week with them. Other guests arrive:
musicians, a dancer,
a chef who rejects robot help. I read
from older work but mention
I’m trying to escape
the usual austerity, working on a long
epic about a network. Which I’m not ready
to read. Someone jokes: if I’m not careful
I’ll reinvent the novel.
(Not really funny – no one
wants to go back to all that.)
Driving home I envy
what my friends have made, and think how,
although my town is quiet, pleasant, stable,
I, too, may … Beyond the fields
hills rise, then mountains,
and beyond them, all the way
to the Pole, places where others live:
wolves, bears, wolverines, polar bears,
the new birds.