When I was a kid, authority
urged me to abandon science fiction.
Read Conrad! Tale of an overconfident
young sailor who fails,
then lives and dies under a cloud. Or Maugham,
about this guy whose wife cheats;
he punishes her
by testing, shaming, brainwashing her
(aided by a horrible climate)
into being good. But I secretly
continued to prefer science fiction.
In a pre-computer story I remember,
what’s left of man in the far future
are glittering, immaterial columns
of memories or souls.
Bears, who have evolved and walk upright,
hurl themselves through these, causing
pain to themselves, disorientation
and damage to the mind-hives,
but gathering a lot of knowhow
and knowledge. (They’re bears, remember:
rough-humored, frugal of effort,
untrustworthy, cousins of men, uncles of whales.)
The protagonist, a sentimental,
rather Fifties Brit post-human,
tells them to knock it off.
After she leaves (I extrapolate), the bears
resume their depredations. Soon
nothing’s left of the columns
but weeping cyber-shards
on grass. And a bear says,
“I heard there’s another set of these
beyond the poison desert.” Which,
growling, sometimes scratching, sometimes
loping, they go around.
“Maybe we’ll find books,” says one.
“Floppy disks.” “The A.I.”
“A buried lab with all the secrets!”
“Art.” But the biggest, meanest
grizzly, old but still in charge,
cuffs them to order, roars: “We’re not them!
I don’t want to hear purpose,
It’s fine to want sensation,
but those towers are honey and berries,
not meat. Push through them,
brood on what you learn,
but keep it to yourself. It’s up
to, call it God, not you,
to give us thumbs. Or faces.”
Fred Pollack is author of two book-length narrative poems, THE ADVENTURE and HAPPINESS (Story Line Press), and a collection, A POVERTY OF WORDS (Prolific Press). Another collection, LANDSCAPE WITH MUTANT, to be published in 2018 by Smokestack Books (UK). Many other poems in print and online journals. Adjunct professor creative writing George Washington University.