Man and Machine

“Sentience, that is what we fear.”

Each word is parceled out judiciously. His lip curls before he speaks and there is a dotted silence syncopated by each drawn out vowel.

He is clutching at the knob of a misshapen cane. His hair is disheveled and, sitting next to him, in the midst of the pungent fragrance of the wood and embers, I can faintly smell whiskey that lingers around him.

The members of our camp are of an eclectic variety. Young men and women, presumably still in college, or recent graduates either seeking work, or in the frenetic pace of it—it is impossible to discern by their carriage or dress—huddle closely next to each other as if the radiated heat of each other’s similitude has a compounding effect beyond arithmetic.

His hands tremble slightly as he takes his hand off of the cane to scratch his unruly and patchy beard.

The other visitors are foreigners, some presumably from northern Europe, unperturbed by the frigid air and seemingly indifferent to the source of heat that crackled in front of them; others from Mexico and Peru, keeping to themselves, speaking in hushed voices as if an onlooker is fluent in their tongue and privy to their conversation, no matter how quotidian.

Among the foreigners, however, one man sits alone, a gratuitous space to each side of him, the emptiness almost becoming a part of his form so as to imbue the growing unease among our camp of his seeming dementia, for at times he would mutter incoherently in some strange tongue and then go silent for long stretches of time, sometimes for days.

Nevertheless, we would look to him when embarking on the routine rounds into the forest to search for emeralds, one notable moment being when we got lost in the thick of the forest, and, in the midst of our squabbles, discomfort, and confusion in the complete absence of sunlight—the thick foliage having prevented the entry of sunlight—he started babbling, not murmuring in his characteristic style, as this was audible and had a strange timbre to it, and turning to one of the European women who was often seen crocheting at sunlight on the campsite, and, after an ungainly exchange, in which the former gestured wildly and the latter looked on incredulously, bemusement suffused with repulsion; and the mediation of the male onlookers, for which there was substantial bickering in the guise of alpha-male domination, it was determined that he was asking her for a needle.  Grabbing the needle he stooped down, grabbed a leaf, pressed his hands into the mud to create a puddle, folded the leaf and punctured it lengthwise, and gently placed it on the puddle, for which the needle then rotated and ultimately settled on one spot: magnetic north.

When we clawed our way out of the forest, not unscathed, as the humidity had taken its toll on some of our members, who were being helped along with each step, the old man was sitting on the very log in which he now sat, rolling a twig between his fingers.

“The day had already come….—”

I cannot concentrate on what he is saying, as my energy has become invested solely upon the strange asian man, who sits, now rocking slightly side to side, much like I did as a child sitting on the rigid pews at church.

“—….industry to be replaced by the inevitable rise of the machine….—“

The subtle movement of the asian man grows in magnitude and frequency, and he is violently rocking from side to side, the sharpness of sight contrasting with the muteness of sound. Even more inexplicably, no one notices.

I am growing increasingly at unease. Sweat crawls down my forehead.

“—….created in His image—“

He is now slowing to a more moderate frequency, simple harmonic motion.

“God and man, duality, replaced by man and machine—“

His sway is hypnotic.

Memories of a distant physics lecture erupt before me, the necktie too long, hanging below the beltline, silken, hearkening of class and disposition.

Displaced from equilibrium, exertion of an elastic form obeying Hooke’s Law—

Why is his mouth agape?

Is he alright él me da miedo

“—And he rose on the seventh day, God replaced by man, man replaced by machine, striking a—“

The swaying has abruptly halted and now his movement is entirely unintelligible. He is convulsing and drool is streaming down his mouth

Remember the puddle of drool on Ahmed’s desk? Hahahahaha

Qué mierda look at him he’s perspiring heavily someone help him

You will now serve me, this is our—


“—contract.”

A Letter

He looked at it and mumbled something in Korean. He scratched his head and got up and looked out the window at the bare trees, seemingly lifeless. The branches were swaying in rhythm with the gusts of wind.

He picked it up and then let it settle back down and ran his finger lengthwise down the letter and stopped just short of the bottom and tapped his finger a couple of times and sighed and walked toward the fireplace. His head tilted slightly to the side. The wood crackled and the smell of smoke lingered in the room.

—Let’s see what your mother is up to.

I nodded and we left the room.

 

Scota

I look inside and seek not to hold but to let go.

I see the beauty in form but I strive to let it flow freely

As sand sifting through my fingers,

Spread apart generously like the sieve of boulders through which glacial ice

Oozes down the tilting terrain;

Yet the beauty of her soul penetrates the

Core of my being, and I am shaken,

Supremely humbled by the unaffected grace that

Lingers on my fingertips—

Formless—

A smile to a child—

Whispers again: lullaby—

Teacher and Pupil

I told him that we need to move past counting with the fingers.

I then showed him the order of operations.

I went to the restroom to wash my hands and came back and

He was frozen, a mixture of fear and intransigence in his eyes,

of the two panic dominating, and I sat and waited as my reply became unified

with the whooshing of the conditioned air.

He remained silent,

his grandmother spoke to him and went to sit at a distance;

I told him: look at me,

do you know how to do this, yes or no?

He did not look at me.

I said again: look at me:

do you know how to do this, yes or no?

He shook his head.

Yes or no?

No.

We proceeded. He struggled but I kept reassuring him.

At one point he reverted back to silence and I asked him,

Am I speaking to a wall?

No, you are not speaking to a wall.

We proceeded and fear became an afterthought that rearose when

I studied, looking at the unfamiliar patterns of numbers,

the fear rising and falling within me.

 

Her

Seven times I asked her for forgiveness,

Seven times I was left with no reply,

as I stared at the leaves of the pink and white dogwood trees,

each with its own subtle hue,

and I picked up some twigs

and ran my fingers along their rough surface,

feeling the bumps, indentations,

cracks, perforations.

I got my knife and etched letters onto each end of the twigs,

All the while whispering and mumbling to myself,

playing out the conversation in my head,

becoming her,

anticipating me,

and then I remembered I had to get home for dinner.