Robot WorkerRobot/Worker
David C. Kopaska-Merkel

Limestone opens eroding eyes / kudzu drags a gray shack
Into a verdant mound / while skulls peep back at stony eyes
Groaning into a world of glades,
And ghosts, and raddled condominia_

Eyes rotate, focus, scan for human survivors
Skulls in the kudzu
Spark a tingle of recognition
But no humans live here
 
The robot limps forward, torn metal
Demanding action: find human creators
Retaining adequate technology
To repair its compromised leg, cracked and discolored lens
 
Its algorithmic mind
Edits the visual distortions, allowing it to see
Without seeing fracture lines in a stained-glass world
While in the robot’s ears a constant rumbling
Tumbles through these valleys forever
And sometimes its thoughts are as fractured
As the lens of its left eye
 
The verdure of the former Southland
Drags at the robot’s limbs
Emerald fingers encircling it coyly
Whenever it stops to visualize with one good eye
A relict human colony preserving pre-Apocalypse technology;
Instead, it finds isolated “tribes” of humans
Lapsed into ironic, iron-age savagery, technophobic
Taunting the robot, naming it “demon”
Firing arrows or slinging stones to drive it away
The satellites that once informed its GPS circuits
Now gone, power malfunctioning / directional antennae misdirected
Or orbits decayed.  But stored maps in its data base provide
Sufficient information; the robot knows, despite the fallen signs,
It has passed through a place known as Needles and beyond, thinking:
These abandoned desert towns all look the same
And all might as well bear the name Armageddon
 
An endless stretch of railroad tracks
Intersects the road, dividing the land;
The robot follows tracks and ties westward
Into a silicate landscape of sand and stone
The resinous stench of desert creosote bushes,
Joshua trees, yucca and cholla
Replacing the ever-present vines
 
A discordant rumbling
Arouses excitement’s electronic equivalent
Freight train approaching around some distant bend
But no; only the familiar auditory flaw
Acting up again, engendering an illusion
Like the mirages of desert lakes and inland seas
Shimmering ahead, yet always receding
 
Midway through the desert
The robot strides from the tracks
To kneel in an island of sand
Where no Joshua tree shadows intrude
It spreads its array of solar cells, panels unfolding
Like wings, as the robot lapses into a dormant state
For one long drink of summer sun
Motionless, the robot, as if in prayer
Slow photovoltaic recharging
Of its internal superconductive cell
 
The robot follows corroded rails into the foothills
Limping toward a mountain pass
Between two snow-capped summits
Encountering the ruins of a mountain village
At an elevation beyond the reach / of untamed vegetation
 
The metal man explores a cabin-style store
Stacked bags of chips and cans along one wall
Packaged candy scattered / on the splintered wooden floor
Mixed with rodent droppings
Racks of stale cigarettes behind the register
A mild astonishment
Looting has not completely depleted the shelves
 
On impulse it shoplifts
A pack of American Spirit cigarettes / a lighter
And outside, on the wooden bench / fronting the country store
It places the cigarette / in the bite of its metal mouth
Torching the cigarette’s tip alight
 
Withdraws the stale, smoking cylinder from its mouth
In the pinch of aluminum-hued fingers / an imitative gesture
Dredged from old films and holos
Depicting man/womankind’s behavior —
strange sense of satisfaction
Re-enacting this antique ritual.  Smoke rills upward
Curling, creating a calligraphy of imaginary random symbols
In the still air; hypothetical runes,
Expressing a philosophy, the robot decides,
At once ambiguous and arbitrary
 
When the ash has burned down
It crushes the stub of the filter / in grains of sandy soil
Extinguishing the smoke writing,
The contemplative moment.  Soon the robot
Will invent new reasons to journey on
Motives to travel this road, against all odds and logic
 
Perhaps the nonexistent philosophy glimpsed in smoke
Will help to sustain its sense of purpose;
Or must it refasten the cloak of erzatz humanity
It wore on the storefront bench?
 
The chromium wanderer / high in the mountains
Arrives at the remains / of another village
Mantled in snow it resembles
A Currier and Ives lithograph / lodged somewhere
In the robot’ s memories, decay and vandalism alike concealed
By kind winter’s blanket.
 
Inexplicably, after two dozen years of silence
One of the orbiting satellites resumes its broadcasts
Radio signals / Issuing digital commands
Reflexively, the robot obeys, locating supplies in abandoned stores,
Painting the exterior of a shop / noticing
Some other has been here before:
Recent repairs to window frames and doors
And even attempted refurbishment / of an ancient manual pump
At the town well / Indications of other men of metal at work
 
The robot enters a dilapidated saloon
Sporting restored and polished tables and chairs
Repaired windows and doors
“Robot”, the robot recalls / is synonymous to “worker” in Czech.
It metes out small portions of its own metal polish
To shine the brass rail of the bar
 
Thinking of all the robots / responding to satellite signals
Repairing bicycles, stone pathways,
Careful but inexperienced carpentry / refurbishing a mountain cabin
It experiences Hope, perhaps something like what a human might feel?
Networking through its consciousness / nearly an overwhelming sensation
Robots rebuilding the world one piece at a time
Their efforts, collectively, accruing / restoring the matrix
For future civilization
 
Yet energies / enthusiasms wane.  The robot grows weak, slow,
Needs to recharge.  Afterwards, emerging from shut-down mode
It focuses on rationality’s resurgence / intrusion:
All these disconnected repairs, a shined banister
leading toward a collapsed second storey
Recent work on window frames, a replaced door
Useless, in buildings open to the sky.  Why has it observed
No other robots working?  Only these fuzzy memories
Of its own disorganized repairs.  Recent memories hazy-vague,
Unfocused.
 
Suspicious, the robot seeks the frequency
Of the satellite’s broadcasts; finds none —
Only a familiar voice whispering fractured instructions,
sketching incremental plans
 
                        (end)

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