Who doesn't want to write a history of the World?

This is a slightly unusual posting, as this poem isn't necessarily finished.  What happened is, I put it on a couple of forums, and I got some enthusiastic responses, and also some suggestions for improvements.  Then somebody asked if they could share it on Facebook, and I thought: why not?  However Facebook loses formatting, so it on my blog for her to share...

...so here we are, but it may be subject to further edits later.

Call it a history of the World, v0.1-beta...


First floor -- survival gear: axes chipped
from patient flint; animal skins stitched
with skill and bone needles;
tribal leaders
arguing beside the standing stone;
berries gathered in the sun; fires kindled
in the gloom, to keep the toothier beasts at bay; going up...

Second floor -- farms and agriculture; cats to keep
the rats away; dogs and scrawny goats; the spinning
year and fleeces; fleas in every rush pile
bed; people sleeping on a platform,
animals beneath; pots built from the local clay and fired,
by the clan who have the knack; orange/yellow copper
in the kiln ash, a young man prods it thoughtfully; going up...

Third floor -- city states: law and orders;
walls; gates; men with wise beards,
meet, casual in the forum; politics; decorum, until
the food gets scarce; princelings swapped with
worldly powers to guarantee the peace;
philosophers on temple steps; priests
at watch, nervously; a man who writes everything down; going up...

Third floor mezzanine -- libraries and scriptoria: days
spent, short and candle dim; rude notes
illustrated in the margin, to the greater glory; a story
captured and defined, here and there a line
of mystery; history, on the lectern, written by scribes
in the chapter-houses of the monasteries of the victors;
a new fear of fire; books from half the World, traded, copied; going up...

Fourth floor -- industrialism and empire: men
in clever top hats; lines on maps or diagrams which change
the game; labourers becoming craftsmen, speaking plainly
of pounds per capita per square imperial inch;
unflinching duty; railways; educating lesser races;
ignore their anger, they are children; government buildings
in grandly inappropriate style; social reform; going up...

Fifth floor -- total war: wondering what it's all about in a foxhole;
shells; war poets; dysentery; seven new kinds of mud
to drown in; gas, artillery and wire; cunning inventions
to burn up everything you've known;
fragments of bone in your hair; high explosive
which de-constructed your buddy, hearing, presence of mind;
ACHTUNG MINEN! no leaves on the tree, rumours of a treaty; going up...

Fifth floor mezzanine -- teenagers and youth: sex and drugs;
hugs and messages of vague well-being; seeing things
in new lights; days lost in what used to be reverie, but now
is chilling out; tearing down old certainties, while still
within them; distant mystics, sexier than the local ones;
rolling the stones; liberty, equality, hints of progressive policy; going up...

Sixth floor -- technology: machines for making machines that make
decisions; tension round the rate of change; every day strange
and bravely whirled; Internets; commerce; the people, connected
and loving and arseholes, in equal measure; treasure
sieved from big data; advanced manufacturing facilities
and people drawing squiggles
to sell them on-line; connections for the World, for your mind; going up...

Seventh floor...

Top floor -- future: worlds beyond number;
World without end; machines that think
they are men; vice-versa; change here for: space
elevators, interstellar colonisation, Dyson spheres, generation ships;
there is no ceiling;
the stars like sand upon the beach
of every island paradise the mind imagines...

...I'd put your head between your knees,
it takes some that way, Sir. Shall
I drop you somewhere?  The Victorian Era?  The Renaissance?
Very good Sir.  Going down...


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.