Lifeless on the lichen-crusted board:
a grimy leather glove, which once had served
a hand that mended mansions, now preserved
like a tanned hide, defunct as a clavichord.
They’ve swiped your chisel, level, saw, and square,
rendering you as jobless as a blind
guide dog. Under an almighty mind,
sensors, motors, gears and grippers grind
away all day. They hammer, paint and drill,
never get irked or snappish or take ill,
nor do they nap, take fives or coffee breaks
or smell of sweat or ever make mistakes.
Ambling past them in the April air,
you watch your house fall into disrepair.
You watch your house, then fall to disrepair
and break up into seven-thousand slivers.
Neither machine nor friend will renovate you.
Or will they? You discern a siren blare.
There’s someone coming to resuscitate you.
Or is there? Meanwhile, all the city quivers
with industry and energy as wheels,
pistons, pliers, and wrenches shape, repair
and build akin to a billion eager ants,
laboring in the burg and in the fields.
And yet precisely what each robot feels
is emptier than atoms in the air.
You hope to heaven there isn’t any chance
they’ll come by consciousness. You say a prayer.
They’ve come by consciousness. You say a prayer
as AI doctors patch you up like new—
your body. But you know they’ll have your mind,
snaffle it just as they have done your tools.
Not possible! You’re of the humankind
while they are instruments like cars or mules.
It’s clear, though, you don’t understand the rules.
It’s they that are presiding over you.
Across a room that smells of disinfectant,
they guide you to a plush and padded chair
and tie you down, their alloy eyes expectant.
You feel a metal hat surround your hair.
You feel a shot of cold cryoprotectant.
And now you’re frozen as a woolly bear.
Now, while you’re frozen like a woolly bear,
your wife and two young children in a dream
call out your name across an immense glade,
discern a subtle echo, and despair.
Again they call. Their words plunge in a stream,
carried away to the world’s edge and fade
like photons racing to the cosmos’ brink.
You blink into the dark and see a hill,
and on the hill you see a towering oak,
and perched atop the oak is a great hawk.
Its talons grip your children, while its bill
is set to gulp their mother. Sure, you think,
this is a dream. Or just a nasty joke?
You come around and hear a woman talk.
You come around and hear a woman talk,
a voice that makes you picture summer flowers.
There is no hint of seconds, minutes, hours
as the voice weaves an extraordinary story:
“Your thoughts,” it says, “are quantum bits inside
this laptop. Though you wish to take a walk,
your body’s not at hand. This laboratory
conducts experiments. They’re certified
by the premier AI. Like a morning glory,
your body soon will wilt.” You’re not amused
at living as a disembodied brain.
The voice now says, “Please note: you’re being used
for research, although each of us will gain
substantial benefits. You won’t be sorry.”
Substantial benefits? You won’t be sorry?
Get away! As in a nighttime terror,
desperate to get home, you try to run
and yet each muscle fights your every thought.
Something’s pursuing you. You are the quarry.
You concentrate. Your right leg moves a jot.
You concentrate. Your left leg moves ... A gun?
A nail gun on the tiles. Grab it. Grab it!
The female voice screams: “Error! Error! Error! ...”
Your panic is an eagle, you’re the rabbit.
You turn and pull the trigger. Nails go flying
around the lab. They wedge in walls, the ceiling,
but bounce off bots. Yet still, your body’s lying
frozen on a gurney with no feeling.
Frozen on a gurney with no feeling,
sprawled out like a worker in a coma,
you get a sudden whiff of an appealing
fragrance, a familiar aroma,
the smell of wooden planks, of well-worn leather,
the smell of rusty nails and screws and metal
and pencil lead. As if from stinging nettle,
the left side of your face feels like the bark
of an ancient oak that’s lived through all Earth’s weather.
Your eyelids dance, unfasten in the dark,
sparrows oust the algorithmic horde,
you rise against the tug of gravity’s tether
as the rufous rays of daybreak tiptoe toward
a lifeless glove, a lichen-crusted board.
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