Robert Pinsky

October 20, 1940 / New Jersey

Death And The Powers: A Robot Pageant


robot leader
robot two
robot three
robot four
simon powers
Simon's daughter from a previous marriage.
Simon's third, "final" wife.
Simon's protégé and adopted son. Prosthetic limbs.
the united way
the united nations
the administration
the world's miseries
* * *

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?

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.

* * *


"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!

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?


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.

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

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

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.

There isn't time.

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!

Nicholas says there isn't time.
Because—it's time.

I'm afraid it's time—
And I'm afraid.

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!

Now it is time!

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!

Daddy, where will you be?

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!

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

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

Yes, she is like a mother.

My child—I have no other.

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

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.

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.

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?

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?

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

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

But maybe I'm not
Out of time.

But how can you be yourself,
Without a body?

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

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.


See you later!

What now?

* * *

Scene Two


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.

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.
Whatever I did
I did that and
I am the same.

* * *

Scene Three

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?

Where is Evvy?

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

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!


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

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.

This room
Is all of him?

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

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

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?

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!

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

Who is the president of the United States?

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.

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

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

What is your business?


I am a producer.
And business is my wares.

Lady's Wear, Software,
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.

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

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

All of that,
And something better!

* * *

Scene Four

Simon, do you remember the first time we danced?

In the parking lot near the Francis Drake Hotel.

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

"Begin the Beguine." I remember the terrace.

On the other side remember of the tall hedge.

A tall hedge of pittosporum. I remember.

And the smell I remember of night jasmine.

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

Held together I remember by a little silver bangle.

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

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

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:

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.

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.
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

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.

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

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

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, can you hear Simon?


Are you listening to him?

Does he know that the delegation . . .


The whole planet . . .

Are you listening for him?


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?

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.
I can't send away
A delegation from the world—
The Outside World Itself.

The children . . . the devastation . . .

Daddy, Simon—
Will you?

War . . . famine . . .


Mmmmmmm! . . .


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

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!


Please answer! Can you listen?
Maybe you should listen,
For the sake of the starving . . .

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!


O Röschen rot!
Der Mensch liegt in größter Not!
Der Mensch liegt in größter Pein!
Je lieber möcht' ich im Himmel sein!

the administration
What is he saying?

Father, listen to them—they are the only voice
The poor world has . . .

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


the united nations
It's poetry!

the united way
What is it supposed to mean?

Is it Klopstock? Or Blake?

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

The immortal poet Mündlich!

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

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

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.


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!

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.

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

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

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


"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 . . .

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 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?

You should not agitate him.

You are driving him out of this world.

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

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?

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.

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.

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!

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.

Still, Father, you should listen . . .



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.



* * *

Scene Six

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.

What will it feel like?
What does he feel?


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.

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.


Are you coming, Nicholas?

I'm already there!

They have all gone into the world of light!

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

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?


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!

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

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!

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?


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!

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!

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.

Yes come to the light from the meat!

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.

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

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.

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?


Away from the body of death.
Away from the body of meat!
Away from the wars and the sweat!

What will I remember
With no forgetting?

Away from the body of meat!

How will I feel,
Who will I be?

Away from the wars and the sweat!

* * *

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

I still cannot understand—
What is this
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:

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.
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