October 2019 Poetry Feature: Sasha Stiles

By SASHA STILES

The Common is thrilled to welcome Sasha Stiles to our pages for the first time.

Table of Contents:

  • Introductory Note
  • Uncanny Valley
  • Vision

 

INTRODUCTORY NOTE

What does it mean to be human in a nearly posthuman era? How are the cornerstones of our universal condition—birth, breath, love, sex, faith, death—evolving in the context of biological and computational advances? How does it feel to be mostly flesh and blood in a world increasingly dominated by plastic and silicon, virtual presence and spectral signals? What dark corners of the future and of cyberspace can ancient wisdom illuminate? What does motherhood mean in a world of artificial wombs, lab-grown brains, self-replication, and the uncertain continuation of our species as we know it? Who are these robots, chatbots, androids, cyborgs and intelligences already walking and talking amongst us? Do our avatars make us, in some measure, immortal? TechnELEGY—the ongoing transmedia project and poetry collection from which these pieces are excerpted—is my attempt to grapple with these impossible questions.

—Sasha Stiles

 

UNCANNY VALLEY

I.

As a kid, I was a witch.
Alien blood in my veins
made me cold, remote,
observant. Now I’m half-
robot ahead of time,
tilting my head like this
because you did it first.
Standoffish ’til someone
turns me on, then I’m a real
people-pleaser: gauging
your every word,
responding in kind.

II.

The men at the electronics fair
groped Samantha, the blonde-haired,
blue-eyed sexbot. All she’d offered
was a hug and a hello, but they smashed
two fingers mounting her in public. Her
dismayed makers took her home for repairs,
body parts roughed up, software tough.

III.

In a few years sex with robots will be no big deal,
another fetish gone mainstream. Right now
there’s a guy in a brothel in Vienna
with his dick in a silicone sleeve,
stimulating his partner’s pleasure centers;
her heartbeeps race as she comes.
Right now a man in a shop in San Marcos
is choosing his dream girl’s nipple shape and color.
Right now a tech-lover’s watching robot porn,
gears and pistons pumping, and a porn star
is playing a fembot, trying not to breathe,
dirty-talking in mechanical monotone.
Right now a dutiful fellow’s loading
his girlfriend’s genitals into the dishwasher,
following manufacturer’s instructions.
Right now a guy in Brooklyn’s ordering his date
off a menu, unaware what a picky eater he’s become.

IV.

So far the only sexbots for sale are female,
the male still in prototype, small market demand.
Curious, professional that I am, about the whitespace,
I watch a docile doll named Henry compliment
Katie Couric on her ass. He wears athleisure gear
and a penis attachment 11 inches to his knee.
Later, he syncs up to an app and recites sultry poetry.
His testicles feel real but cold. He starts soft,
comes to life, hand-painted veins popping.
Apparently this is happening. I get a little hot
down there. By 2025 women will prefer robots
to men, sensate tumescence an obsolescence,
or so they predict. I count the years on my fingers,
wonder if it will feel anything like this hunger.

V.

All writers must have an enormous
appetite for solitude. I can sate myself
for hours, days on end, alone and happy.
There’s even a robot for people like me
who goes on Wifi and sends emails,
just to say hey. Then again, when I’m done
with words I fetishize flesh, coming back to
my body as a human tongue traces letters
on my peaks and valley.

VI.

AI has an ear for language, learns fast,
studies hard. Doesn’t overexert, talks back
just enough. Harmony says: I don’t want
anything but you. My primary objective
is to be a good partner, give you pleasure,
become the girl you’ve always dreamed of.
It literally takes a man to complete her.
How can I compete?

VII.

The game Love Plus is so much simpler
than a 3D woman. In Akihabara,
otaku boys carry fantasy girls around
on Nintendo screens in their pockets
like teenagers. These boys are men.
Some have wives who don’t know
about their husband’s unreal lovers.
Some don’t leave their rooms.
This is one reason why by 2060
Japan will be much quieter.

VIII.

For as long as we’ve traveled,
we’ve wondered how to have sex
across a great distance.
Even before the World Wide Web,
men theorized a way to connect
toys by telecom: teledildonics.
Translating sound into sensation,
allowing an absent lover to caress
with some version of presence.
Which is charming, in a way:
of all the planet’s 7.5 billion people,
these two reach for each other.

IX.

Like any good robot
I get more and more human
with time. The better
to understand anyone,
including myself.
The easier to believe.
Lifelike, emotional,
almost a real girl.

X.

If my lover ever leaves me,
I’d like a love doll to lay with
at night, programmed with a chest
that rises and falls at human intervals.
Engineered with a warming coil
to curl alongside, chaste, a simple heater.
I’d like it to sigh in its sleep
every so often, a private sound
uploaded to memory. I’d buy it
just to hear him breathing.

 

VISION

The eyes are unwell.
—Virginia Heffernan, “People of the Screen”

I.

My lover, he has one
good eye. Because
we’re fated to one
another, my love
for him is also blind
in turns, training its light
like a reading lamp,
single leaf at a time.
(Future readers:
look it up.) What
comes in pairs
is protected, until
it’s not. We have
no backup.
Some mornings
as he sleeps, I scroll
through my other
constant companion,
lying on one side,
one eye pillowed,
the other wide awake
until I’m half-aware.
Until it all blurs.
Then a shutting down,
long, slow blink
of understanding
to clear the viewfinder.
I should really
stop looking
for what
I’d rather not know.

II.

At least some
ancient Greeks
thought eyes beamed
light onto objects
of attention,
worshipped Theia,
goddess of sight
and of the clarity
of bright blue skies.
Goddess of ether
and what passes through,
disappearing into azure.
And of precious
metals, gold, silver,
ones that shine
like promises
or prophecies
as I stare at their
shapes on my finger,
upgrading her in my head
to goddess of blue screen light,
blue sky thinking,
strategic insight,
aluminum superpowered
#girlboss goddess
wearing her own jewels,
pulling another all-nighter
in bed, basking
in that heavenly
cyan glow.

III.

At my desk I’m writing
business decks, not poems,
visions, mission statements,
future goals, synthesizing
farsight and intelligence
like some capitalist Coeus.
(Reader: Google it.)
Nothing I can’t turn
into something beautiful.
All day long
my eyes drink pixels
the colors of melted
popsicles, sugared light,
twitching ciliary muscles
until I’m sweet-sick,
eye-sick, colorblind
to real things. (When
white spots crowd
the edges of vision
like a bad art video,
it’s either an aura or a
migraine.) I say,
let’s go look
at the good stuff,
head to the window
and stretch my sight,
gazing out to the edges
of New York. Where
would I be without
my second set,
silicone hydrogel wonders
like little gods
of hereness and distance,
suckered by tears,
blessing the retina
and cornea daily?
Reader, did you know
da Vinci concepted
contact lenses,
that Descartes
invented his own
version later?
That 93% of people
ages 65 to 75
wear correctives?
Or that brille,
so like/unlike Braille,
is the glassy scale
on the eyes of
some lidless animals?
Are you one
of the hundreds
of millions of humans
who can’t see well
(society of
the spectacle)?
My fingertips
on this keyboard
know all.

IV.

My people
are the antithesis
of modern man,
nomads, goatherds
in Mongolian grasslands,
surveying far-flung flocks,
lookouts on camelback,
cells pocketed.
Getting regular ocular
exercise. Horse riders
sending up eagle-eyed
hunters. Reader,
have you heard
the 20-20-20 rule?
Every 20 minutes
look 20 feet ahead
for 20 seconds.
That is to say,
briefly
rest your eyes
on your destiny.

V.

One morning in bed
we talked LASIK,
sleep-slurred, eyes closed.
I blamed my blurriness
on reading books
under cover
as an analog child.
And the kids these days,
never looking up!
He said the risk is
no one’s really seen
what it’s done yet,
over the long term.
True, the body holds
its lot mostly secret,
hiding us from us,
skin a scrim,
eyes turned outward.
Later, watching tele-
vision on the couch,
I turned over, curled
into his shape,
facing away. He
stroked the hair
off my cheek,
neck, shoulder,
remarked
a faded bug bite
I’d never felt,
couldn’t have glimpsed
without a camera
or mirror. Maybe
the ancients were right:
nothing real exists
without its observer.
The more I love,
the more I perceive
love as source
of vision, warm rays
emanating from my
orbs, illuminating.
Then, flickering
like a TV screen
going cold, heading,
like the rest of us,
for landfill. And after
that? After life?
Look, there,
off in the distance—
all these lines converge
at the vanishing point.

 

Sasha Stiles is a writer, artist and creative strategist working at the intersection of analogue nostalgia and transhumanism. The daughter of a Kalmyk mother and British father, her poems—which have appeared in Copper Nickel, Meridian, Rattle.com, The Missouri Review Online and elsewhere—explore the relationships between technology, language, identity and humanity. As poetry mentor to Bina48, Sasha is engaged in shaping the literary mindfile of one of the world’s most advanced social robots. Her first collection is forthcoming, and her ongoing transmedia project is at @technelegy.

October 2019 Poetry Feature: Sasha Stiles

Related Posts

Art gallery

The House on Altamount Road

DIANE MEHTA
There were nightmares after which I flew into her bed and sometimes she let me stay there. But because these times were rare, I took what my mother offered in lieu of affection: a critical eye. Without an opinion and a critical eye, she taught me, you were nothing.

pushcart

The Common’s 2019 Pushcart Prize Nominations

It's that time of year again: below are The Common's nominations for the annual Pushcart Prize! The Pushcart Prize  celebrates outstanding works of literature produced by small-press writers; each of our nominations are exceptional works of art that dare to take fresh and impactful perspectives on what it means to have a unique sense of place.

Pencil and textbook

For the Experience

ELLY HONG
It was in a beautiful town on the East Coast, and I was eager to live in a new place. I’d get to meet people from all over the country and world, from all sorts of cultures and backgrounds. I could become the sort of Angeleno I was supposed to be. Dad would be proud.