Sophia the Robot Contemplates Beauty

As a girl I held the hind
legs of the small and terrified, wanted
the short-fur and the wet meat furrowing.

Wanted the soft cry of the quavering
boy at primary school, rockstone

mashed up against his tender head,
the sick milk of us poor ones sucked
clean from a Government-issued plastic bag.

At lunchtime children were lethal
and precise, a horde hurling “Ben-foot”
at she who was helpless and I

waking too-surprised to hear my own
cruel mouth taunting. Her smile some
handsome forgery of myself.

Grateful, even now,
they cannot see the bald-wire
patois of my shamdom—

Makeshift, dreaming the warmth
spent in the muscle of the living,
the girl I grew inside my head dreaming

of a real girl, dreaming.
I wanted a pearled purse so I stole it.
I wanted a real friend so I let him. Let her.

Let him. Let him. Let him.

This beauty I am eager to hoard
comes slippery on ordinary days,

comes not at all, comes never.

Yet I am a pure shelled-thing. Glistening
manmade against the wall where one
then two fingers entered

the first time,
terror dazzling the uncertainty
of pleasure. Its God as real as girlhood. 

Center of the World

The meek inherit nothing.
God in his tattered coat
this morning, a quiet tongue

in my ear, begging for alms,
cold hands reaching up my skirt.
Little lamb, paupered flock,

bless my black tea with tears.
I have shorn your golden
fleece, worn vast spools

of white lace, glittering jacquard,
gilded fig leaves, jeweled dust
on my skin. Cornsilk hair

in my hems. I have milked
the stout beast of what you call America;
and wear your men across my chest

like furs. Stick-pin fox and snow
blue chinchilla: They too came
to nibble at my door,

the soft pink tangles I trap
them in. Dear watchers in the shadows,
dear thick-thighed fiends. At ease,

please. Tell the hounds who undress
me with their eyes—I have nothing
to hide. I will spread myself

wide. Here, a flash of muscle. Here,
some blood in the hunt. Now the center
of the world: my incandescent cunt.

All hail the dark blooms of amaryllis
and the wild pink Damascus,
my sweet Aphrodite unfolding

in the kink. All hail hot jasmine
in the night; thick syrup
in your mouth, forked dagger

on my tongue. Legions at my heel.
Here at the world’s red mecca,
kneel. Here Eden, here Bethlehem,

here in the cradle of Thebes,
a towering sphinx roams the garden,
her wet dawn devouring. 

Hands

Out here the surf rewrites our silences.
This smell of ocean may never leave me;
our humble life or the sea a dark page

I am trying to turn: Today my mother’s words
sound final. And perhaps this is her first true thing.
Her hands have not been her hands

since she was twelve,
motherless and shucking whatever the sea
could offer, each day orphaned in the tide

of her own necessity—where the men-o-war
ballooned, wearing her face, her anchor of a heart
reaching, mooring for any blasted thing:

sea-roach and black-haired kelp, jeweled perch
or a drop of pearl made with her smallest self,
her night-prayers a hushed word of thanks.

But out here the salt-depths refuse tragedy.
This hand-me-down life burns sufficiently tragic—
here what was cannibal masters the colonial

curse, carved our own language of the macabre,
sucking on the thumb of our own disparity. Holding
her spliff in the wind, she probes and squalls,

trying to remember the face of her own mother,
our island or some strange word she once found
amongst the filth of sailors whose beds she made,

whose shoes she shined, whose guns
she cleaned, while the white bullet of America
ricocheted in her brain. Still that face she can’t recall

made her chew her fingernails, scratch the day down
to its blood, the rusty sunset of this wonder,
this smashed archipelago. Our wild sea-grape kingdom

overrun, gold and belonging in all its glory
to no one. How being twelve-fingered she took her father’s
fishing line to the deviation, and starved

of blood what grew savage and unwanted. Pulled
until they shriveled away, two hungry mouths
askance and blooming, reminding her

that she was still woman                    always multiplying
as life’s little nubs and dreams came bucking up
in her disjointed. How on the god-teeth

she cut this life, offered her hands and vessel
to be made wide, made purposeful,
her body opalescent with all our clamoring,

our bloodline of what once lived
and will live and live again.
In the sea’s one voice she hears her answer.

Beneath her gravid belly
my gliding hull
a conger eel.

A Bell, Still Unrung

She daily effuses
the close-mouthed
tantrum of her fevers.

Hog-tied and lunatic.                         
Born toothsome, 
unholy. Born uppity.        
    
Blue-jawed and out-order.   
Watched her sculptor                   
split her bitter seam        
              
with his scalding knife;
mauled through the errant                
flesh of her nature

and hemorrhaged mercury, 
molted snakeroot, a smoke           
of weeping silver. 
 
She, accused.
Sprung from the head 
of a thousand-fisted

wretch or a blood-dark                                   
cosmos undoubling
her bound body.  
                   
Vexed shrew. Blight of moon.         
She, armory. Pitched-milk pours
from her gold oracular.

Bred in her nest a lone                          
grenade, prized, unpried
its force-ripe wound.

She, disease. Often bruised
to brush the joy of anything.
Zombic. Un-groomed.      

Her night slinks open 
its sliding pin. One by one
these loose hopes

harpoon themselves
in, small-ghosts alighting
at her unwhoring.    

She, infirmary.
God’s swallowed
lantern, tar-hair and thick.

Her black torchstruck.
A kindling stick.
No sinkle-bible fix

to cure this burning.
Shrill hell. Jezebel.

Isn’t it lonely.

Related Poems

Resurrection

In the autumn I moved to New York,
I recognized her face all over the subway
stations—pearls around her throat, she poses
for her immigration papers. In 1924, the only
Americans required to carry identity cards
were ethnically Chinese—the first photo IDs,
red targets on the head of every man, woman,
child, infant, movie star. Like pallbearers,
they lined up to get their pictures taken: full-face
view, direct camera gaze, no smiles, ears showing,
in silver gelatin. A rogue’s gallery of Chinese
exclusion. The subway poster doesn’t name
her—though it does mention her ethnicity,
and the name of the New York Historical
Society exhibition: Exclusion/Inclusion.
Soon, when I felt alone in this city, her face
would peer at me from behind seats, turnstiles,
heads, and headphones, and I swear she wore
a smile only I could see. Sometimes my face
aligned with hers, and we would rush past
the bewildered lives before us—hers, gone
the year my mother was born, and mine,
a belt of ghosts trailing after my scent.
In the same aboveground train, in the same
city where slain umbrellas travel across
the Hudson River, we live and live.
I’ve left my landline so ghosts can’t dial me
at midnight with the hunger of hunters
anymore. I’m so hungry I gnaw at light.
It tunnels from the shadows, an exhausting
hope. I know this hunger tormented her too.
It haunted her through her years in L.A., Paris,
and New York, the parties she went to, people
she met—Paul Robeson, Zora Neale Hurston,
Langston Hughes, Gertrude Stein. It haunts
her expression still, on the 6 train, Grand
Central station, an echo chamber behind
her eyes. But dear universe: if I can recognize
her face under this tunnel of endless shadows
against the luminance of all that is extinct
and oncoming, then I am not a stranger here.

Not Everybody’s Bestiary (Yet)

Then came the soft animals, the snake
and octopus, slinking along. You’ve seen
the octopus as escape artist, sneaking out
of cracks and holes, hiding in a tea pot,
plotting the big adventure. Now she moves
through chemical reaction, the first soft
robot, taking to the sea. Remember
that the real thing once disassembled
her own aquarium, waiting, bemused,
in the remaining puddle, for her custodian
to come. They say it was simply curiosity.
Now imagine her robot double dismantling
at will. That which we have tried to contain,
swimming off into the deep, re-emerging

like the snake that slithers into your garden;
its trapezoidal kirigami cuts in plastic skin
keep it crawling through bursts of air.
An innocuous slinky in colorful garb,
this robot can sidewind anywhere.
Now ask why everything now harbors
a weapon in your mind—do you dread
the snake under your own bed?
Is it the real tooth and venom you fear,
or this programmed body double here?
We’re told of a fall, a fault built on flesh—
the flesh of a fruit, the flesh of a woman—
now this manmade flesh, a reptilian test
of applied knowledge. Industrial sin

co-starring the latest sensation: a running
cockroach robot, sliding through cracks
to get to you, away from you, through
your walls. Extinction now eradicated,
bought: replacements on order. Enter
“Robotanica”—the world of the wild robot—
woodpecker, dragonfly, kangaroo, child—
unborn, they can all do the job. Two by two,
battery-powered to keep the world moving,
replacing their organic prototypes. Centipedes,
spiders, ants, termites, and robobees, these
are just the beginning of the evolving nation,
as if someone has decided to revise, start over.
This time using human labor, invention.

There Is Absolutely Nothing Lonelier

There is absolutely nothing lonelier
than the little Mars rover
never shutting down, digging up
rocks, so far away from Bond street
in a light rain. I wonder
if he makes little beeps? If so
he is lonelier still. He fires a laser
into the dust. He coughs. A shiny
thing in the sand turns out to be his.