Lanscape with Distant Prospect

This poem comes from two places.  Firstly the idea that a person, internally, is a sort of world of their very own where their own normality prevails...  and that to really know somebody, you have to know their land.

And secondly from Ursula K Le Guin's marvellous Earthsea novels, which I read long ago when I was young and have re-read several times in the intervening years, whilst quite against my wishes I grew older.

One of the Earthsea novels, the third if my memory serves, is called The Farthest Shore.  We need not concern ourselves with the plot of this book here, merely the title is enough of a phrase to conjure with.  The whole drive of this poem is to reach that phrase having journeyed sufficiently to generate a sense of arrival, expectation, and potential.

Landscape with distant prospect

Do you want that girl, whose eyes
expand so wide?  She drinks the world
through doors in her face, pours it into a covert place
of her own devising, and perilous
for those not-shebut it could be if you spoke to her,
casual, in some corridor or halfway up a stair,
you might be acknowledged with a word,
a nod, the one raised eyebrow
of a demi-goddess, whose halo, cocked
at a jaunty angle, illuminates a shade too much.

Peek into her eyes now.  Do you want to enter,
walk her world?  New-cut staff in hand
and battered boots, trailing, very steady, from the hills;
cupping one hand in rills of freezing water
and coming to love the bleakness of a land
never shaped by human sensibility
and where the thorn trees
get twisted all on their own.
Yet there is a track, faint, but with occasional cairns
of fist-sized stones.  You can drop into the forest,

build a small fire, eat fresh-killed rabbits
that you roast on spits, expectorate
gristly bits back into the flame. At night
you might dream that the girl herself came
and stood, wordless, in the shadow of some tree
and in the morning there would be nothing
but the early rook poking warm ashes for a beakful
of burnt meat.  As so you go day-by-mile, by foot to the sea

where, against probability, a ship rides at anchor
in a sheltered bay.  He is here, the captain will say,
to discover if the ocean has another side,
and you will sign-up for this crew, to chance all rigours
and violence of storm, becalming, starvation,
the vigours of pirates, and sea monsters
that rise, silent, from the depths to stare
placid and Delphic, and for no reason you could know.

But you will go for half a chance
of footprints on the farthest shore.


Feminine principle

Is this about feminism?  I don't know.

I don't like to be political.  It comes from having been brought up in science fiction and we only moved to reality when I was fifteen.  When you've sat up late at night arguing with two land squid and a talking metal box about whether the souls of extinct nihilist cacti should be allowed to marry...  well any minor differences of colour, gender or political persuasion begin to look irrelevant.

This definitely does come from challenging the idea that mechanical men should automatically be assumed to be, err, men.  Even the word "android" is inherently masculine.  "Gynoid" is the feminine equivalent and you don't hear that a lot.  "Homonoid" should probably be the correct term, but then there's "hominid".  Androids probably are hominids, which will freak the palaeontologists...

And don't get me started on the bias in assuming robots should be shaped like people—I mean it's barely true in the real world anyway.  You don't see many industrial robots in sit-down strikes.

Anyway, is this feminist?  I don't know.  Interpretation is, as ever, left as an exercise for the reader.

Feminine principle

Victoria builds a woman not from ribs.  Sugar, spice :
these also do not feature, this is a different creature...

If you have seen those sexy chromium androids,
drawn by that one guy from Japan.  Gynoids, I should say,
they're not right either, but one might do
as a starting point, although it needs some work.

Titanium blades to turbine round in thousands
of revolutions, a system always humming
if you press her with your ear.  You can also hear
the click of relays as she decides—to love or not to love—

so many losers she can't choose
who to reject first.  This is no bride for any Frankenstein,
this is Kevlar reinforcement on a spine of optical fibre.
This is nerve, in spades, and a cryogenic cool

as she slits fresh fruit with one surgical-steel nail
and raises it to bite.  You might,
and I will, envy the apple,
but, as Victoria says: that isn't the point.


Numbers station

A Numbers Station is a Cold War artefact.  A weird short-wave radio station that transmits nothing but some distinctive sounds (often low quality music) punctuated by uninterpretable sequences of spoken numbers.

Clearly the whole point is that it won't mean anything, except to the very few lucky people who've been given the key.  It's a cheap and very private way of sending simple messages to Your Man in Halifax.  Nowadays one just emails; via encrypted channels, of course.

None of which stops the numbers stations from having a cult following, a bizarre style of their very own, and hoard of conspiracy theorists who stalk them.

Pulsars are relatively mundane in comparison.  They're neutron stars: single atomic nuclei the size of small industrial cities; the remnants of dead stars that weren't quite large enough to form black holes; spinning spheres with surfaces moving at sizeable fractions of the speed of light; powerful radio beacons "chirping" so precisely they were originally labelled "LGM" for "Little Green Men"—which they aren't, of course.

So nothing to write home about, really.

Numbers station

A song of distant, static-abraded numbers
the mechanism unwindsmonotonic and discrete.
It had an edge once, but not now
so neat as the mind recalls it.  There's a gap...

...around the days she faked, in faking lived
and now has left behind.  Don't think about the boy
and forget the laughter pastedcrudelybetween the mind
and the point, too far to guess, where a neutron star spun...

...down, the definitive direction: empires, cricket balls,
angels tumble from the blue, and in doing so
draw nearer.  The man reached for her once; unknowing,
implored some sweaty comfort for the fall...

...to pass the time, she builds a short-wave radio
from wreckage in the tracking station.
She turns the dial to sample languages; shrapnel
of news and song; the soul of the pulsar chirps...

...for a moment, and a tiny, tinny voice chants:
two, seven, five
two, seven, five
zero, zero, zero.
She grabs the code pad...

...which isn't there.
Something has ended,
she doesn't know what
those days are over.