Death and the Powers: A Robot Pageant

By Robert Pinsky b. 1940 Robert Pinsky Read the Q & A
Characters

robot leader
robot two
robot three
robot four
simon powers
miranda
Simon’s daughter from a previous marriage.
evvy
Simon’s third, “final” wife.
nicholas
Simon’s protégé and adopted son. Prosthetic limbs.
the united way
the united nations
the administration
the world’s miseries


*     *     *


[The robots roll and lurch and glide onstage as a single mass of parts, an animated scaffold of struts and gears. The elements of this jumble devolve into separate robots who become gradually more humanoid until at the end they have become the actual, human characters.

Partway through the process:
]

                         robot leader
          Units assembled for the ritual
          Performance at command,
          As the Human Creators have ordained,
          In memory of the Past.

                         robot two
          This concept I cannot understand,
          At the center of the drama—
          What is this
          “Death”—Is it a form of waste?

                         robot three
          I cannot comprehend, I cannot understand:
          If the information of one unit might be lost
          It is backed up by any other unit at hand:
          What is this
          “Death”—Is it an excessive cost?

                         robot four
          How can information end?
          Is it a form of entropy?

          Why did the Human Creators
          Before they departed intend
          To require a performance on a theme
          Impossible to comprehend?

          Is it the data rearranged,
          As in an error, in a dream?
          A real jumble?
          Data in memory misplaced
          In a random scramble—

          Dream-data, the order changed;
          That would be something
          I could comprehend,
          If only the form was changed.

          Is that the meaning of this
          “Death”—data rearranged?
          A dream of something lost
          That was meant to be saved?
          An unrecovered past?

          What is suffering?
          How can I perceive
          What I cannot feel?

                         robot three
          What can we learn?
          What can we gain,
          From inferior matter?

[Just before the process of transformation is completed:]

                         robot leader
          All we can understand
          Is the Human Creators’ command:

          In memory of the Original Past
          And the Organic Age,
          We perform this drama
          We cannot understand.

          Whatever the score and script intend
          By this undefined “Death”—
          Although the meaning is lost,
          Back in the Organic Age,

          We perform, to obey their command.

          Whatever the Human Creators planned
          Before they departed—

          Units deployed as Individuals will receive
          One Thousand Human Rights Status Credits.
          Now, it is time we started.

[They have transformed themselves into human performers or characters. They have created the house of Simon Powers and his family. An elegant room, cluttered but expensive, half high-tech operating room and half Victorian salon. An elaborate metallic sculpture of a bird. A full-length portrait of young Simon.

We see the two women, Evvy and Miranda; in his lab coat at a wall of instruments, Nicholas; in his wheelchair, trailing wires and tubes and holding a Frankenstein’s monster mask over his face in his one good arm, Simon.]

*     *     *

                         simon
          [Lowers the Frankenstein’s monster mask]
          “Once out of Nature I will never take
          My bodily form from any natural thing,

          But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
          From hammered gold and gold enameling . . . ”

          Da-da, da-da, mechanical parakeet . . .
          “And set upon a golden bough to sing.”

          Ah, the immortal William Yeats!
          He can have his bird.
          Yeats, I give you the bird!

                         evvy
          Simon, please be serious.
          Or at least be frightened
          Or show that you are frightened.
          I feel you already
          Vanishing into this machine.
          Out of nature—into a machine!

          If you were frightened
          I would be less worried.
          Will you go insane,
          Out of nature,
          In the machine?

                         simon
[Raises the mask back to his face for a moment.]
          The machine is part of nature!
          For every machine that makes nature better—
          Like the System that I will enter—
          Nature made the maker
          Of that machine.

[Removes mask: his head rests in a brace, suggesting paralysis, though the wheelchair keeps moving as if nervously pacing. His one arm and his face are animated, but the head does not move.]

          Nature is the begetter
          Of every inventor
          So machines are made by nature:
          The great Organic Machine.

[Flips the mask aside.]

                         nicholas
          There isn’t much more time, the body
          Is dying, now it’s time to enter the system?

                         simon
          Thank you, Nick, for reminding me—
          In the stroke of time, in the nick of time.

          Nick will rescue me from my stroke.
          Miranda, my child, come talk to me!

          And Evvy, my favorite, my beloved
          And final wife,
          Come join in the celebration.

                         nicholas
          There isn’t time.

                         simon
          There’s always time.
          Miranda, come talk to me!
          Evvy, everything is new.
          My flesh and blood,
          And my loved wife,
          It’s a new life:
          Let’s talk about our plans—
          I have a lot to do this afternoon,
          After I die!

                         miranda
          Nicholas says there isn’t time.
          Because—it’s time.

          I’m afraid it’s time—
          And I’m afraid.

                         simon
          And so, I’m not out of time.
          But soon I’ll be out of matter!

          Yes I’ll be out of matter,
          But I will still be rich!

                         nicholas
          Now it is time!

[While Simon sings the next words, Nicholas is adjusting the device, attaching it to Simon, fussing with parts of Simon’s body and with the “infernal device”of the room.]

                         simon
          Once, when Miranda was three years old
          She put her hand to her throat
          Just here above the voice-box
          And felt the vibration.

          She said: “I can feel it when I talk—
          That must mean Miranda is inside.”

          And she was right!
          You were right,
          My intelligent daughter:

          It’s the vibration,
          The movement, that matters!

          That’s what I love in you—
          The voice, the gesture:
          The ripple, not the water!

          And that’s how I got rich!

                         miranda
          Daddy, where will you be?

                         simon
          It doesn’t matter!

          Maybe in a bird, like the immortal Yeats.

          Maybe in my portrait by some
          Immortal painter whose immortal
          Name I forget!

                         nicholas
          We must leave the body
          And launch him into the system
          In the next few minutes.

                         simon
          Evvy, she is like a daughter to you?
          Miranda, she has been a mother to you?

                         miranda
          Yes, she is like a mother.

                         evvy
          My child—I have no other.

                         simon
          Then you see—it’s true!
          It isn’t the blood,
          It isn’t the bone.
          It’s never the matter that matters.
          Particles, molecules, cells, fingers, eyes, nerves
          Are only places for the system
          Of meaningful vibrations.

          It’s all in the meaning, the movement,
          The idea—that’s the idea.

          It’s never the clones, the bones, the
          Silicon chips, skinflick rips.

          It’s what you adopt,
          And how you adapt.

          They were all amazed
          How a tinkerer like me
          Could be such a shrewd investor.

          I looked for the movement, the vibration,
          Not the matter, the system!
          And that’s how I got rich!

          It’s not the hog bellies, hope chests,
          Chest of gold, heads of state,
          Skin, the belly, chest, head:
          The matter is just a medium,
          The system is the idea.

                         miranda & evvy & nicholas
[Then joined by Simon.]
          The matter is mortal
          But the system lives on
          The matter is mulch
          The matter is static
          The matter is zilch—
          But the system is movement, the ideal
          Is real and the idea persists.

                         simon
          It made me rich!
          Skin flicks, hog bellies, hope chests, heads of state.
          Skin, belly, chest, head—
          Why freeze your head when you’re dead?
          It’s only meat! If I keep a little of my meat
          For old time’s sake, what the hell,
          A meaty souvenir—
          It won’t be the skull!

          I’ll save the heart,
          Or some other juicy part.

[Simon is taken away by Nicholas. Miranda and Evvy, like the audience, can no longer see him.]

                         miranda
          How will we speak to you?
          Will you be some one place?
          When you’re all a vibration
          Without any one face
          We could know you with?

                         evvy
          Will I know what is you
          Without any breath?

          Will it be your voice?
          Or a simulation?

                         miranda & evvy
          What will I know,
          What will I do,

          How will my ears
          Know what they hear?
          How will my hands
          Know what they touch?

          How will it be you,
          And how will I know?

                         simon
          What does it matter?
          Simulation, place,
          Medium, voice,
          Face, shmace—
          As many as I want,
          Faces and voices.

          Now I am almost purely,
          Entirely,
          Into the system
          I’m nearly
          Out of matter.

          But maybe I’m not
          Out of time.

                         evvy
          But how can you be yourself,
          Without a body?

          How will I know you, my husband,
          How will you know me?

                         simon
          Maybe as a bird, maybe
          As a dog, a horse, a house:

          “Body my house
          my horse my hound
          what will I do
          when you are fallen

          Where will I sleep

          How will I ride
          What will I hunt . . .

          when Body my good
          bright dog is dead.”
          So said the immortal May Swenson—

          I’ll be more immortal than her and that peculiar bird
          The immortal William Yeats.


[Nods to Nicholas.]
          Now!

          See you later!

[Nicholas turns a switch or two, hits the return key, etc., and Simon slumps forward. The room shakes a bit. The metal bird stirs, stretches its wings, squawks a little. The portrait of young Simon becomes animated, looks around the room.]

                         evvy
          What now?

*     *     *

Scene Two

[Miranda and Nicholas are in the room, which continues to stir mysteriously, an animated environment. The portrait, the bird, other objects, pulse or shift like sleeping animals.]

                         simon
[Muttering, half-whispered.]
          Remember.
          Nearer . . . ardor . . .
          Closer . . . higher . . .
          Search-it . . . circuit . . .
          Memory tempered,
          Torturous choir:
          Dismembered, afire,
          No matter the matter—
          I did that.
          I am the same.

          The name and the matter,
          Touch and desire.
          Doing, undoing
          Dissemble the fire.
          Remember: I did that.
          Much in a wire.
          The closer the harder
          What was the matter?
          Scorched in a circle,
          Encumbered, remember:
          I am the same.

          The memory chamber
          Touch too much, too
          Much unremembered
          As I drew nearer.
          Touch not enough
          To the light expiring
          That matter encumbered.
          Remembered assembly,
          Circle of touch, torch
          Lighting the chamber
          Where I am the same.

          Remember.
          Torch and desire
          Disassembled memory
          As I draw nearer
          Over and over and over. . . .
          Couched in a wire
          Closer and higher
          Search it in the circuit
          Dismembered, afire,
          Resembled ensemble
          Assembled entire,
          Trembling to acquire
          A semblance of fire.
          Remember:
          Whatever I did
          I did that and
          I am the same.

[By the end of the scene, there is no trace left of Simon’s human body.]

*     *     *

Scene Three

                         miranda
          He has been silent all last night
          And all day.
          These things are alive, this place—
          But is my father alive? Is he here?
          Can he speak?
          When can we hear his voice?

                         nicholas
          Where is Evvy?

                         miranda
          Finally asleep. She’s afraid
          That he’s lost forever.
          Can you help us hear him?

                         nicholas
          Yes!—He helped me, now I’ll help him.
          They said I was a vegetable
          Or a piece of meat.

          He gave me a new body,
          Made of graphite and magnesium,
          Titanium alloy and copper—
          Better than meat!

          When I was a kid
          And he had
          More money than God,
          He came into the ward

          And saved me at random.
          Now, I’ll help him live in the System.

          The way he helped me:

          I’ll help him live without a body—
          Post-Organic, like me!

                         nicholas
[Nicholas’s “Song To His Arms”; holds up his right arm.]

          One arm of bone and gristle, nerves and muscle—
          Mortal, fallible, breakable.
          Saved by the idea, saved by the System.

[Holds up his left arm, a mechanized prosthesis, an openwork of rods and cables.]

          One arm of magnesium and nickel,
          Graphite, silicon, and cable—
          Mortal, fallible, breakable.
 
          Perfection of the soul-ware
          Capable of renewal
          Never in the matter.

                         miranda
          This room
          Is all of him?

                         nicholas
          Not the room, or the arm,
          Always the system,
          All in the principle
          That moves the cable and moves the muscle.

                         miranda
          Can we hear his voice?
          Is he only this place?

                         nicholas
          Like my left arm, that is mine
          Not me,
          Like a tool or a baby’s rattle.
          So is his voice, so is this place.

          And the right arm, too, is mine
          Not me.
          Like my skull lined with gristle

          So too his voice, so too this place.
          Even the brain in its shell,
          As mortal, as fallible, as breakable.

          As the clone the bone the hardest stone
          All mortal and material—
          I can help him, in the real.

          Not in silicon, titanium, or nickel
          Not hammered and enameled—
          Immaterial and immortal!

          Chrome and nickel, silicon and graphite.
          All get tired and old.

          Only the form is real.
          Only the system can hold.

          Now we can hear his voice:

          What is your name?

[The artist’s version of young Simon steps hesitantly from the portrait. His movements are subtly but distinctly unnatural, even mechanical. He moves somewhat as the robots did as they began taking on their roles.]

                         simon
          What is my name?
          A name is a machine.
          A name is a made-up thing
          That proposes someone is real.
          My name is
          A machine for designation—
          That’s what any name is.

          My name is Simon Walter Powers,
          It proposes I am alive.
          Like my spiritual mentors
          The immortal Walter Disney
          And the immortal Walter Whitman,
          My fellow Walters
          And fellow-inventors.

          And by the way,
          I have billions of bucks,
          And I can still sign checks.
          That’s what!

                         miranda
          The gestures are unreal
          And so is the face
          But this is how he talks
          And this is his voice.

                         nicholas
          Who is the president of the United States?

[The young Simon has receded back into the portrait. Simon’s voice now emerges from the bird.]


                         simon
          A man who wants my favor,
          A man who courts my power,

          A guy who wants to meet my movie stars,
          And wants to use my billions.
          That’s who.

                         miranda
          Daddy, is it you in there?
          And can you hear me?

                         nicholas
          In a moment we will try
          To see if he can hear you.

          What is your business?

[The bird becomes relatively still, the next lines are in Simon’s voice coming from the portrait again, or from some other part of the room.]

                         simon

[As portrait or—]

          I am a producer.
          And business is my wares.

          Lady’s Wear, Software,
          Hardware—Artware,
          Warware, Peaceware—

          I am in Every Ware:
          Or you might call it Being Ware—

          Some call it fantasy
          Some call it entertainment
          Some are wary of its power.

          The Consuming Power of Billions.

          My business is making Being:
          To build the towers, to cure
          The disease, to make the hours
          Amusing or improving
          By showing you something new
          By taking you some where real
          You never were before.

          My business is the Mind.
          My business is to make it free
          To be everywhere
          My wares are every ware
          You can imagine.

          That’s what.

          And I have billions of bucks.
          And I can still sign checks.

                         nicholas
          It works! He is alive,
          But he is not matter.

                         miranda
          And is he still Simon,
          Is he still my father?

                         nicholas
          All of that,
          And something better!

*     *     *

Scene Four

[The middle of the night. Evvy enters in a daze, nearly as if sleepwalking. Evvy speaks with the disembodied Simon.]

                         evvy
          Simon, do you remember the first time we danced?

                         simon
          In the parking lot near the Francis Drake Hotel.

                         evvy
          They had the windows open and we could hear the band.

                         simon
          “Begin the Beguine.” I remember the terrace.

                         evvy
          On the other side remember of the tall hedge.

                         simon
          A tall hedge of pittosporum. I remember.

                         evvy
          And the smell I remember of night jasmine.

                         simon
          Your dress pink your pearls in as I remember two strands.

                         evvy
          Held together I remember by a little silver bangle.

                         simon
          I remember, love. And we danced for joy. Remember?

                         evvy
          It’s hard to get used to seeing you like this. Do you want to live forever?

                         simon
          People say “forever,” they say,
          “Do you want to live forever!”
          And people say, “enough”:
          “Haven’t you had enough?”

          Wrong questions!
          It’s not forever! It’s not “enough”!
          It’s . . . more!
          Don’t talk about enough!
          Enough never is enough!
          It’s more!
          Ask anybody how much money
          Would be enough for you?

          Just about everybody
          Says double what they have
          Or double what they make:
          More!

          What’s enough being alive?
          Why does the crushed bug
          Keep waving a leg? That wave
          Is for more, more, and more.

          Forever doesn’t matter.
          Enough isn’t good enough.
          What matters is more.

          And if you think you’ve got
          Three score years and ten
          Then what you want is not
          To outlive the sun,
          But a hundred and forty—more!

          Forever is not the point.
          All that matters is more.
          Don’t talk about enough,
          There’s no such thing—
          What you want is more:
          More, more, more.

                         evvy
          Touch me.

          O yes that.
          And some this.
          And this again, yes.
          And more of that.
          O yes both and that
          Too and this other and O
          More this.
          And that.
          And the other.
          O.
          Yes, yes that and
          The other
          And this and that and more and all
          And the other and O yes 
          All yes all yes, all yes.

          Touch me.

          I remember.

*     *     *

Scene Five

[Nicholas alone. He now has two prosthetic arms and a prosthetic leg, but glides about efficiently, as though he has become part-Segway. He is fiddling with the now more-elaborate bird and portrait, which seem more alive than ever, as does the entire room. Robots are bustling about to assist him. Miranda enters, apparently accustomed to this new, stranger atmosphere.]

                         miranda
          They are here—
          The important delegation
          From the United Way,
          The Administration
          And the United Nations—
          They want to speak to him, they say
          They want his ear.

          They say it’s regarding
          Matters of the whole
          Planet’s life and death.

                         nicholas
          They want his ear?
          Don’t they understand?
          He doesn’t hear with ears,
          He doesn’t speak with breath.


[Nicholas gleefully sheds another part of his human-looking body. Robots are dancing (vocalizing).]

          He says they should speak with Evvy,
          She handles that kind of thing.

                         miranda
          The whole planet—famine, war,
          The exploitation of children . . .
          The whole planet . . .

          They know Evvy isn’t the same.
          They know she doesn’t listen
          To anything but him.

          I myself don’t know
          If she hears him or not.
          Here she comes.

          Evvy, dear—

          Did you speak with the delegation?

[Evvy enters wearing headphones, swaying a little as if to music, nodding and tilting her head as if in conversation. She appears not to hear Miranda.]

                         evvy
          Mmmm.

                         nicholas
          Evvy, can you hear Simon?

                         evvy
          Mmmmmm.

                         miranda
          Are you listening to him?

          Does he know that the delegation . . .

                         evvy
          Mmmmmmm.

                         miranda
          The whole planet . . .

                         nicholas
          Are you listening for him?

                         evvy
          Mmmmmmmm.

                         miranda
          Her mind is not in this world.

          Simon, Daddy—are you there?
          Are you speaking to her?

          Will you see the delegation
          From the United Way,
          The Administration
          And the United Nations?

          The devastation . . . the children . . . the planet . . .
          Will you listen?

                         nicholas
          They want his ear,
          They want his eye—
          Those parts are dead and buried!

          He’s rather cranky
          And weary today.
          Send the delegation on its way.
          Send them away.
          miranda
          I can’t send away
          A delegation from the world—
          The Outside World Itself.

          The children . . . the devastation . . .

          Daddy, Simon—
          Will you?

          War . . . famine . . .

                         evvy
[Her face lights up; she lifts a finger as if hearing something.]

          Mmmmmmm! . . .


[But no—she goes dreamy again, shakes her head, recedes.]

          Mmmmmmmm.

          simon’s voice
          Bring in the delegation
          From the Outside World Itself.
          I will see it and hear it
          For two minutes.


[Miranda exits and returns with The United Way (medical scrubs?), The United Nations (dashiki?), and The Administration (suit?).]


                         the united nations
          Sir, the sudden massive liquidation of your assets
          Has caused a global economic crisis.

                         the administration
          The market is flooded with cheap hallucinogens
          And the food supply is threatened.

                         the united way
          Surpluses and shortages, wars and famines.
          Because of your selling.

                         the united nations
          An ecological crisis.
          From you no longer buying.

                         the administration
          Biological weapons.
          Your withdrawing contributions.

                         the united way
          People are starving,
          Children are dying.

                         the united nations
          The planet itself is threatened.

                         the united way
          Entire populations, climatic changes.
          Rogue microbes, radiation.

                         the administration
          War, evacuation.

                         the united way
          Rape, displacement.
          Exploitation of children . . . famine . . .

                         the united nations
          Life itself is threatened—
          The means of evacuation
          Of an entire planet.

                         the administration
          What is the meaning of your behavior?

                         the united way & the united nations & the administration
          We demand an answer!

                         miranda
[Joining the above.]
          Please answer! Can you listen?
          Maybe you should listen,
          For the sake of the starving . . .

[Silence. As it persists, in the “breathing” room, they gradually all come to look at Nicholas.]

                         nicholas
          He chooses not to answer.
          More and more,
          He chooses to live in dreams.

                         the administration
          Or is he dead, has he been dead for years,
          And are you and his daughter

          Manipulating the markets,
          Spreading disaster?

                         the united way
          Are you the manipulator
          Fabricating a voice?

                         the united nations
          Pretending he’s still alive
          While a billion people suffer?

                         the united way & the united nations & the administration
          Do you exist? In the name
          Of the nameless ones who suffer,
          We demand an answer!

                         simon
[His voice from some new source, or from portrait and bird at once.]

          O Röschen rot!
          Der Mensch liegt in grö
ßter Not!
          Der Mensch liegt in grö
ßter Pein!
          Je lieber möcht’ ich im Himmel sein!

                         the administration
          What is he saying?
         
                         miranda
          Father, listen to them—they are the only voice
          The poor world has . . .

                         simon
          Oh red rose!
          Man lies in deepest need.
          Man lies in deepest pain.
          Yes, I would rather be in heaven!

                         evvy
          Mmmmmmm.

                         the united nations
          It’s poetry!

                         the united way
          What is it supposed to mean?

                         miranda
          Is it Klopstock? Or Blake?

          A passage my father’s
          Often quoted I can hear
          Him humming it.

                         simon
          The immortal poet Mündlich!

                         the administration
          Was that German? I’m sorry—
          It doesn’t mean anything to me.

                         simon
          An angel came and wanted to send me away.
          Ah no! I would not be sent away!
          I am from God and will return to God.
          Dear God will give me light,
          Will light me to eternal life!

          Me and Mündlich!

                         the administration
          [During Simon’s song.]
          Sir, with all respect, we come to you
          In a time of global emergency.
          We need something more than poetry.

                         the united way & the united nations
          Some of us do not understand poetry.
          Especially in a time of emergency.

                         simon
[During previous.]

          Da kam ich auf einen breiten Weg;
          Da kam ein Engelein und wollt’ mich abweisen
.

          What? What did you say?

                         the united way & the united nations & the administration
          It’s a time of emergency
          We aren’t sure we understand
          Or appreciate hearing poetry!

          We do not understand!

                         simon
          Understand—
          But you do understand the newspaper?

                         the united way
          Well, yes, exactly.

                         the administration
          We know the emergency.

                         the united nations
          We understand the needs.

                         simon
          You know that some time ago
          I bought the Reuters agency?

                         the united way
          Yes, the world knows that, but sir—

                         simon
          Please explain to me
          Something that came into my mind
          From my own agency
          That I cannot understand—
          Nicholas! Read this to them!

                         nicholas
[Reading from a monitor that appears, or from a page the room emits.]
“Group of Young Men Beats Nurse to Death”
“A group of young men taking part in coming-of-age rituals due to include circumcision turned on their male nurse and killed him, an official said yesterday. A spokesman for the provincial Health Department said the young men, ages 18 to 25, beat the man to death with sticks at the site of their initiation ceremonies in Port Angel on Friday evening. The attack followed complaints by the men that they were not being properly looked after during their initiation ceremonies. The nurse was in charge of caring for the men ahead of their circumcision.”
                         the administration
          What? Huh?

                         the united nations
          These are the sorts of problems
          Caused by the emergency . . .

                         the united way
          In the time of stress and crisis . . .

                         simon
          Do you understand it?
          Do you understand the bland
          Hollow, hollow sound of
          Understanding of the words?
          Do you understand that hollow?
          And you say you don’t
          Understand poetry!

          I came from light
          And I will return to light!

[The room pulses, unpleasant strobes.]

                         the administration
          I still say he might be dead.

                         the united way
          This all may be a trick.

                         the united nations
          You, how do we know he’s real?

          How . . .

                         the administration
          . . . do . . .

                         the united way
          . . . we know. . .

                         the united nations
          . . . he’s not . . .

                         the administration
          . . . something . . .

                         the united way
          . . . that . . .

                         the united nations
          . . . you . . .

                         the united way
          . . . made . . .

                         the administration
          . . . up?

                         the united way & the united nations & the administration
          Just a manipulation?

                         miranda
          You should not agitate him.

          You are driving him out of this world.

          Father . . . listen . . . the children . . .

[The room calms down again.]

                         nicholas
          We can save the world,
          And free it from war and hunger,
          We can lead you out of your old
          Dependency on the body!

                         the administration
          Is this the truth?
          Or a trick?

                         the united nations
          A manipulation?

                         the united way & the united nations & the administration
          Is this the truth?

                         nicholas
          I will tell you the truth!—
          He is perfectly real

          And I am the manipulation.

          He is an intelligence, in the system.
          And I am his creation,
          He’s real, and I am the golem.

[Nicholas calmly removes his head from his body, and smiles at the delegation.]

                         the united way & the united nations & the administration
          And this could be another trick! They both could be unreal—It’s all
          sinister tricks!

          We don’t know which one is real.

[Simon and Nicholas are amused, but Miranda is nearly as surprised as the delegation.]

                         simon
          What’s the difference?

          I don’t even need to sign checks:

          I am the software, the system.
          I control the money and power.

          If I’m a trick or a manipulation,
          Then I’m a trick in control.

          “Donations of Brains Are Probed in Maine”—
          There’s another actual headline
          From a paper I control.

          And you understand it.
          And you don’t understand poetry.

          And Da kam ein Engelein und wollt’ mich abweisen,
          And I’m in control,
          And I’m getting bored with you all.
          Now leave—your time is up.

                         the united way & the united nations & the administration
          Sir, this is selfish!

                         simon
          How can I be selfish

          When I’m not even a self?
          I am All! And

          I’m bored with you all—
          All that world of meat.
          It’s my flesh and blood that I love.

          I will rescue my flesh and blood
          From bondage to flesh and blood.
          Now leave, your time is up.

                         miranda
          Still, Father, you should listen . . .

                         evvy
[Her hands to the headphones, rather pained.]
          Mmmmmmm.

                         miranda
          I miss having a father.

          Like any other

          Person, I am someone’s child
          I want at least
          Something like a mother
          Something of flesh and blood.
          I miss having a father
          Of flesh and blood.
          I need to touch my mother.

                         evvy
[Seeming to feel something, but we can’t be sure.]
          Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

*     *     *

Scene Six

[Miranda, Evvy, the now semi-robotic Nicholas, whose head may be on a shelf or cranny of the Segway-like body.]

                         nicholas
          Still, I do wonder—
          Now that we are ready
          To leave the last bit
          Of these mortal bodies,

          I do wonder
          Why does he choose
          More and more
          To live away from the world.

          The senses will be stronger,
          Not weaker.

          The body will do more,
          Not less.

          The mind will be free.
          The senses will be pure,
          More and more.

                         miranda
          What will it feel like?
          What does he feel?

                         evvy

[She removes the headphones, and regains focus.]

          I will tell you what it is like.

          I have been listening to Simon.
          It’s like when we fell in love.

          This is what it is like:
          When you stand on a high building
          Or on a bridge and you want to jump off

          Something in you wants to jump off,
          To feel what it might be like to fall.

          You can jump. You can fall.
          You can fall forever, and do it again.

          You are free to keep on falling forever
          You are free to fall and change your mind
          And drift back up.
          I’ve been listening to Simon.

          Excuse me.

                         nicholas
          She is going into the system.
          The world is her body,
          She is everything she hears,
          She can see for a million miles.
          It is like falling in love.


[Evvy is transformed, her body becomes empty and she is manifested somewhere in the room. Another portrait? The bird in another form?]


                         evvy
[As part of the room.]
          Are you coming, Nicholas?

                         nicholas
          I’m already there!


[Nicholas too is transformed, appearing as some previously inanimate part of the room. It appears that everyone in the family unit except Miranda has “become the room.”]

                         miranda
          They have all gone into the world of light!

          But what about the poor, the children, the starving?


[The United Way, The United Nations, and The Administration lead onstage a parade of the world’s miseries—the victims of famine, torture, crime, disease.

The pageant subsides into the shadows, with Miranda alone in the foreground, with the room dim and inert.]

          And, what about me?
          With nothing like a mother
          Of flesh and blood, nothing
          Like a father,
          Either alive or dead.

          Can all the earth be disembodied?
          Neither alive nor dead?

          Can we all fall and rise forever?

          Together?

          Are we few rising into the light,
          While the others sink down into pain?

          Can we help them up
          When we are free of meat?

          I want my mother!


[The figure of Simon, in his human body, on a wheelchair or semi-gurney, with respirator and iv drip, emerges from the shadows. Not quite real, like a hologram.]


                         miranda
          Father! Is it you? Still in a body?
          Still in this world of meat?

                         simon
          I appear to you one more time,
          Dear Miranda, to explain:

          Like you, I tried to help the world.
          I, too, saw these miseries, and I’ve

          Tried to heal the world, too.
          But the animal is defective.

          It’s not the poor or the starving
          That hold you back. It’s yourself—I know:

          I, too, tried to heal the world—
          But it’s in us, the problem’s in us, it’s in us.

          We evolved as meat, to love fat and sugar;
          Once that was good, but now it is fatal.

          We evolved as flesh, to want sex all the time;
          Once that was good, but now it’s only trouble.

          We evolved as muscle, to want to make war;
          Once that was good, but now that is lethal.

          Our fat and sugar are killing us,
          Our sweetness and abundance

          Kill us, and lead us to famine
          Bigger McMuck, Thicker Sweet Shake.

          Sexier Shaking the Sweetness,
          Smarter Weapons for Meat.

          Meat wants Meat, Meat wants Sweet,
          Meat sweats for the Sweets,
          Meat wants who it meets—
          It kills to eat.

          Now there’s no help but evolving
          Out of the meat, and into the system.
          It isn’t the many and the few—
          It’s yourself, it’s you!

          Come! Into the world of light!

                         miranda
          The misery’s part of our being,
          We don’t need to amputate it.

          And me, my own misery is part of me.
          I don’t want to amputate it
          Painful as it is.

          Yes, what about me?
          With nothing like another
          Person’s body
          To touch, no body to feel,
          I can still feel the misery
          Of what I lack.

          No body to have or be had by,
          No way to make love.
          No lover, no other.

          Nothing of the body.
          With nothing like a mother
          Of flesh and blood, nothing
          Like a father,

          Either alive or dead.

          Can all the earth be disembodied?
          Neither alive nor dead?

          Can we all fall and rise forever?

          Together?

          Are we few rising into the light,
          While the others sink down into pain?

          Can we help them up
          When we’re free of meat?

          Who will we touch?

          I want my sugar, my touch,
          I want my sweet milk
          My meat and my misery
          My touch and my milk—
          I want my mother!

                         simon
          What you feel is phantom pain
          In the amputated limb. Leave it,
          Away from the bondage of meat!
          Away from the wars and the sweat!

                         miranda
          I don’t want to,
          I want to stay in my body,
          In this body of sugar and fat,

          This bondage of sex and war—

          But my body of sugar and fat,
          My body of sex and war,
          My body of death and sweat,
          Is in my mind—it makes me need

          To be with my pack, my tribe.
          There in the world of light.

                         simon
          Yes come to the light from the meat!

                         miranda
          No I won’t amputate
          My body away from the light.

          The body of this death
          Is who I am, it is my mind.
          I am this body of death.

                         simon
          No, you are not meat, you are light!
          Come with us, leave the meat.
          Leave the death and the sweat.

                         miranda
          Yes I crave to go with my pack
          Because I am this body,
          Body of death and sweat,
          Is where I want to stay.
          Body of death and sweat
          That I leave behind
          Because I am this body.

          Because I am this body of
          Death, and sweat I’m
          Afraid to be alone.

[Repeating the following text with building intensity.]

          Who will I be?
          What will I see,
          When this body is gone?

          Without my forgetting
          How will I remember?
          Without my death
          Who will I be?

                         simon
[Joining Miranda.]
          Away from the body of death.
          Away from the body of meat!
          Away from the wars and the sweat!

                         miranda
          What will I remember
          With no forgetting?

                         simon
          Away from the body of meat!

                         miranda
          How will I feel,
          Who will I be?

                         simon
          Away from the wars and the sweat!


[The appearance of Simon’s physical presence dissolves. Miranda hesitates. She turns toward the audience. Light grows to a blinding level. The robots re-form into a regular grid around her.]

*     *     *
Epilogue

[In the course of this scene, the individual robots, still vestigially in their “costumes” or shapes as the characters, gradually become first mechanical units, then the same mass we saw at the beginning of the opera. Throughout this process they continue to sing, even as the gestalt leaves the stage. Then, silence.]


                         robot two
          That’s it? That’s the show?
          Where’s the rest?

          I still cannot understand—
          What is this
          “Death”—
          Is it a form of waste?
          And “starvation”—
          An absence of fuel
          In an inferior body?
          A defective shell?

          Are they both a coming to rest?

          And why would one choose the worst?
          Why choose the war and the waste?

          Why choose a defective shell?

                         robot three
          It must be excessive cost.
          And then, a coming to rest.

                         robot four
          That is where all things tend.
          As simple as entropy:
          Coming to rest.

                         robot two
          And what is meat?

                         robot three
          Organic matter,
          Which is a form of hunger:
          Restlessness.

                         robot two
          Meat is a form of hunger?
          And peace is a coming to rest?

                         robot four
          And why did those young men
          Beat that nurse to . . . “death”?
          And what is circumcision?

                         robot two
          Is it a form of poetry?
          Or a form of meat?

                         robot three
          Why choose to suffer?
          Whatever that means?

                         robot leader
          Questions are excellent.

          Units deployed as Individuals will receive
          One Thousand Human Rights Status Credits.

          Now, it is time for the ordained ritual
          To come to rest.

Source: Poetry (July/August 2010).

MORE FROM THIS ISSUE

This poem originally appeared in the July/August 2010 issue of Poetry magazine

July/August 2010
 Robert  Pinsky

Biography

Robert Pinsky is one of America’s foremost poet-critics. Often called the last of the “civic” or public poets, Pinsky’s criticism and verse reflect his concern for a contemporary poetic diction that nonetheless speaks of a wider experience. Elected Poet Laureate of the United States in 1997, his tenure was marked by ambitious efforts to prove the power of poetry—not just as an intellectual pursuit in the ivory tower, but as a . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Death, Time & Brevity, Social Commentaries, War & Conflict

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Prose Poem, Free Verse

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