THE FIRST TIME I SAW A ROBOT
They had Teddy’s robot all ready for the funeral,
he sat off to the left
while the rabbi gave the eulogy.
His eyes glowed, unfocused and stony,
as his mother spoke of the plate of pasta
he’d stuck in the fridge and never come back for.
Teddy is the only person I’ve ever seen die
and I didn’t even know him.
His death did not happen to me,
I was only witness to the transformation
of his body as it fell past my classroom window
and became a bird.
ROBOTS AND ART
Robots play piano well, but they never
get past a certain level. My teacher Monica
said I played with my whole soul. Some people
don’t have a soul, she said. That day
Monica started wearing her sleek, black wig,
was the same one she told me about
her early boyfriends and Sunny’s Sundaes
in Delphi, Indiana. That was when I understood
she had a robot of herself as a young woman;
it reminded her she’d once been healthy and beautiful;
on good days, it convinced her she still was.
She pretended she did not have this robot,
and never brought her to lessons. The robot
reminded Monica how full of life she had been,
but it couldn’t like things, could only learn them.
It didn’t understand the difference between
Bach and Brahms, why Bach made Monica focus
and Brahms filled her with longing.
DUMPING YOUR ROBOT
“I’m breaking up with you,” I tell my robot.
“Okay,” he smiles. I know he’s agreed
because he was programmed agreeable,
but his easy acquiescence teeters something in me,
that this matters no more to him than
“okay” and the cheery high five
he extends, thinking we’ve come to productive agreement.
“It isn’t okay,” I say, and he agrees, again.
I tell him he doesn’t understand,
so he asks me to explain.
I tell him humans are incapable of apathy,
that they can go back and forth on something
or hold many conflicting desires simultaneously,
that right now, for example,
I want to go for a swim
and eat a cheesy pretzel from the 81st street cart,
and set out uptown without destination,
but it is 1am on Christmas Eve
and I am in pajamas.
In the time it’s taken to explain apathy
to my robot, I could have gotten dressed,
walked to the train, and rode to Fleetwood.
Right now I’d be walking through an apartment complex
in the dark, slipping through the gate
behind a neighbor, climbing three flights of stairs
to the door of the boy I love.
“Real love is never apathetic,” my robot repeats.
How could I walk away from him now?
What did the buffalo say to his son when he
dropped him off for school? Bye-son.
Did you hear about those antennas that got married?
The reception was great. Robots don’t “do” sarcasm.
They’re like my grandmother.
Knock knock. Who’s there?
Your robot. Your robot who?
What? I’m confused. Your robot who?
I’m afraid I don’t understand.
Why don’t you tell me more
so I can be a better robot?
YOUR ROBOT AND YOUR MOTHER
“What do you want?” my robot asks,
“Tell me so I can help you get it.”
“I don’t know what I want,” I say,
and find myself next to my parents’ bed,
showing my robot how I used to stand by my mother
after a nightmare, breathing until she woke up.
I carry him to the kitchen counter,
where she would warm ask why I was crying.
“I don’t know,” I’d insist.
She thought I was hiding something,
but it was an aimless and inexpressible sadness.
“I’ll comfort you after a nightmare,” my robot promises,
we sit quietly while he rubs my back
and braids my hair, and the sadness bubbles in me.
It’s easy to be mean to your robot
like it’s easy to be mean to your mother
because you know your robot will still be there for you.
I slap my robot but he doesn’t mind.
I remember the worst fight I’ve ever had
with my mother, the thing she said
before she slapped me. I start to cry
and my robot comforts me. In his cold arms,
I am 16 again, and my mother is standing
outside my bedroom door.
She knows tonight I am afraid of her
so she speaks from the other side of the wall:
“I love you,” she says,
“I love you too,” I say, “No matter what.”
She laughs because this is so obvious.
“Of course,” she says, “No matter what.”
I was trying to program my robot
but my robot programmed me!
Claire said I was the only one
who understood the world was bittersweet.
Her parents got her a robot of herself without depression.
It was a welcome home from the hospital gift.
Claire hated her robot, and she set to work on it
like an angry child giving a haircut
to her pretty doll. She taught her robot
to cry when it was the perfect temperature
or a baby smiled or the sun set over the river.
MRS PARSONS’ INCREDIBLE ROBOT COLLECTION
I read an article in The New Yorker
about a woman who collects used robots.
She rescues them, their missing limbs
and bashed in noses, from junkyards
and trash heaps. She makes the rounds
on Monday mornings to see if anybody left one
at church over the weekend.
Most people stop wanting their robots,
they sit in the comfiest chair in the house
for hours without moving, they pop out
from under furniture when you get up
to go to the bathroom in the night,
or sometimes it isn’t night, sometimes
it’s nine in the morning, pouring boiling water
from pot to teacup, when catching your robot’s eye
across the counter is like looking in a mirror
and seeing how alone you are,
unbearably by yourself inside your body.
The article says: “Mrs. Parsons is determined
to surround herself with everyone else’s shit,”
which might be why my sister sent it to me.