Saturday, 8 August 2020

The Machine is also an Audience

It gets hot, when you do something intense
Sometimes it chatters for no reason
Mine recently broke a fan,
from clutching too hard at its bearings

Sometimes it literally grades you,

Or reports you to some higher power
Sometimes it cheers or jeers you;

The machine is a master of sarcasm

It's easy to say 'that's ridiculous,

machines are not agents, only people are agents'
But if that's your thought then consider:

  1. We have no idea what agency is
  2. If we did we still wouldn't know how to spot it
  3. Our classifications are bullshit meant to shore up injustice 
  4. Things can be more than one thing at once

A tree is a machine,

A massive, intricate structure
Industrially framed in cellulose,

Billions on billions of moving parts

pumping nutrients, water, light and air

between earth and sky as needed

A tree is also a crowd,

Each seed a child, each branch
A delicate communion of leaves,

A constellation of insects

Microbes, birds, and small mammals,

Garnished with lichens and moss.

No tree

Could ever be void of life

And if you don't think a tree

Can be an agent then
You need to pay more attention.

Stand quietly, patiently, with one for a while,

Touching and listening and watching.

And remember how old they can be,

What, and how much, they have breathed

Of course, this is just an excuse to tell you about some of my favourite trees

Like a rich woman showing you photos of her pets
Or a schoolboy describing his crush 

 He is a poplar, probably as old
As the Victorian park he stands in,

But playful like a puppy, endless with joy,
So to sit or stand near him is to be wrapped

In every twist of his leaves,

One's attention always demanded.

She is an ash, perhaps even older,

With a stern straight spine, downy with lichens,
That draws all the knots out of my yearning back

when I visit to lean it against her,

And one vast old hand, low to the ground,

Shielding her dell from the road by the school

So the insects that tend her can dance there in peace,

And I can bury my face in her leaves,

And receive their fluttering kisses.


What I'm saying is
If I can date a tree,

Then the play in your station makes your TV a stage

And you act as a thespian, not out of will,

And it's theatre that you perform,

And your body, too, is an audience

A machine and an agent,
More than just you,

Multiple, listening, and reactive.

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