Published on Academy of American Poets (

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.


Copyright © 2019 by Rebecca Morgan Frank. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 29, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“I had been writing poems about medieval automata when a friend introduced me to an award-winning roboticist who kindly invited us over to dinner with his family. He showed me videos of his research and introduced me to the existence of soft robots of the sea. I began to imagine a 21st century bestiary, one populated by the strange new robot versions of natural creatures. This poem marks just the beginning—for poet, for roboticist, for the world of the future.”
—Rebecca Morgan Frank


Rebecca Morgan Frank

Rebecca Morgan Frank’s third collection of poems is Sometimes We’re All Living in a Foreign Country (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2017). She is the 2019/2020 Distinguished Visiting Writer in Poetry at Bowling Green State University, and lives in Chicago, Illinois.

Date Published: 2019-10-29

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