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. 


Copyright © 2020 by Safiya Sinclair. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 4, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“This poem is the first in a series of persona poems written in the voice of Sophia the Robot, who is an actual robot named Sophia and an official citizen of Saudi Arabia; the first robot to be given rights of citizenship. Sophia the Robot was designed by Hanson Robotics to resemble the ‘classic beauty’ of Audrey Hepburn; she wears full-face make-up and is carted around as a display of technological advancement. I wanted to examine this eerie dichotomy of objectification and personhood, the improbability of a female robot being given rights by a country where women’s rights are still non-existent. This poem interrogates the idea of Sophia as feminine mimesis: how she was built to perform a fixed idea of (white) womanhood, while also upholding the meager western ideals of beauty. I’m interested in exploring her as a broken replica, an errant echo, while making poetic inquiry of the fact that Sophia’s name is a western bastardization of my own name; I wanted to create a tapestry of Sophia’s imagined humanity as a fractured mirror to the visceral reality of my own black girlhood—to give voice to this bug in the machine, this dark other.”
Safiya Sinclair