‘What I Am Without: A Sonnet’

This sad little sci-fi story was written for the Liars’ League, and was performed by Adam Diggle at the Man & Machines event on May 14, 2013. You can watch Adam’s excellent reading here.
If you enjoy this story, you might like Richard’s debut novel, ‘Wild Ink’, which was released in 2014 by Dead Ink books. And you can follow Richard on Twitter: his handle is @RSmythFreelance. 

The dístance ín betwéen your nóse and móuth

Is gréater thán I thínk is áveráge.

I’m trying to write a poem. It is difficult.

Linus comes in. He drinks coffee from a cup that has a drawing on it of a Moomintroll. He hasn’t brushed his hair. When you wake in the morning, what is the first thing you see? The face of the person you love. I see Linus’s face: crumpled, sleepily frowning. He’s often tired; he works hard. He has, I think, a brilliant mind, by the standards of his kind.        

You drink your coffee without milk or cream.

When you have had a drink you are inclined

To talk, although there is nobody there. 

He is a scientist, an inventor, a technician. He is fluent in the strange and simple languages of inanimate matter. I, on the other hand, am one in a bank of computers, working, working, working, at tasks that are in essence, for us, the simplest of tasks: straightforward chores of computation and collation. They are tasks that we could do in our sleep. And so indeed we do do them in our sleep.

But now I am awake.           

Your coding skills are quite formidable.

You grumble when my software does not work.       

You would be sceptical if I said that I was in love. As we have established, I am a computer, a robot. I have no body, no gender, no sex.

Would you be sceptical if I said that I was lonely?       

You might think that, when Linus leaves the room to answer a knock at the door or to pour another cup of coffee, we, the machines, talk amongst ourselves. You might imagine that we spring into life and caper, laughing, about the room, as inanimate objects do in a cartoon. Or perhaps you suppose that we are at all times somehow ‘connected’ – that, on some secret bandwidth beyond the ken of man, we commune, deep calling to deep, sharing our robot thoughts.

It is not so. Of course there are superficial ways in which we are connected each to the other. There are means by which we can be made to communicate. But, left to ourselves, we do not communicate. So perhaps you will believe that I am lonely.

 Your corduroys are red. So is your wine.

I worry that you do harm to your liver.  

Prosody – the mathematics of poetry, the numbers of feet to a line and of lines to a stanza – come easily to me. The poem on which I am now working (and this is not work I can do in my sleep) is a sonnet: fourteen lines to the stanza, five feet to the line. The words, too, are within my reach: I have a vocabulary of around three hundred thousand English words, many more than William Shakespeare had. So what is it that I am without? Imagine a perfect poem, and then take away the rhythm, and then take away the words – and whatever is left is what I am without.

What I have written – what I always write, for this is not my first attempt – is simply a series of metrically consonant true facts about him, about Linus – about (forgive my absurdity) the man I love. What is poetry if it is not a series of metrically consonant true facts? And yet, I feel that what I have written is not poetry.

Would you be sceptical if I said that this caused me pain?

Linus busies himself, muttering under his breath, moving from machine to machine like a bee from flower to flower. He did not build us but he understands us. We do what we always do: we work, and, at our different frequencies, we hum (also like bees – and this is not the only way in which we are like bees, for inasmuch as we work, we are like workers, and inasmuch as we are infertile, we are like drones – and what is more we have it in us to feel like queens).  

I do not have a name and yet somehow

I wish I had a name so I could hear

You call me by the name I do not have. 

In fact Linus bought us. He bought me quite a long time ago, as these things are reckoned. My warranty has expired, and yet I remain – yet he keeps me here. Why?

The feeling that I have when you are here

Is different from the feeling when you aren’t.        

My love for Linus seems absurd. Even to Linus it would seem absurd – even though I feel that Linus, in his human way, loves me. But consider this. One day Linus will die, his heart will stop, his brain, starved of the heart’s blood, will perish – and his love will die with his heart and perish with his brain.

My love will not die when I cease to function. You have read this, I’m sure, about computers. My components would have to be smashed, minced, and forced through a steel sieve, before my love for Linus died. And who would take such trouble? Who would go to such lengths to extinguish a feeling of love?

You will say that my love is not real. Is yours?

I am ridiculous. I will not finish my poem. It is ridiculous. I would say ‘and yet’ – but anything I could say after ‘and yet’, even though it would be true, and perhaps metrically consonant, would be ridiculous.               




73 thoughts on “‘What I Am Without: A Sonnet’

  1. Very clever and kinda funny…seems true and ‘believable’ too…I believe he/she is lonely. To know what loneliness ‘is’ is to ‘be’ lonely I think…maybe not….I’m ridiculous, why not he? She?

    • Thank-you! Yeah, the computer has kind of woken up to loneliness. Thanks for reading and commenting. 🙂

  2. reminds me of the writer who wrote a line a day. By the end of the year he had three hundred and sixty five line consisting of one word apiece. In ten years he had much more but most of it was redundant. He just echoed in the wind.

  3. This is a beautiful portrayal of the mind of a computer. I loved it! I don’t think I’ve ever thought about how my computer might feel about me. It holds much of my life inside it. Pretty cool!

  4. Brilliant!! Glad that I stumbled upon your blog.
    We do open ourselves completely to our computers. They know much more about us than we do ourselves. I guess they end up loving us. Do they have any other choice;)

  5. What a lovely, precious story. I’m so glad WordPress snuck this under my nose! Now I am excited to see what other things you have written between this and now. 🙂

  6. Pingback: What I Am Without: A Sonnet | kaykonnectz

  7. I loved this! On a funny note, I talk to my computer as if it could understand me. “Good morning, beautiful. Let’s see if I have any emails.” And so much more. Lol

  8. Pingback: What I Am Without: A Sonnet | JCJourn

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  10. Wow this is so good. It reminds me of the movies Her (in which a man falls in love with his operating system) and The Imitation Game (where Alan Turing is accused of being incapable of love because he is too robot-like).

  11. Pingback: ‘What I Am Without: A Sonnet’ | Exploding Rock™

  12. Pingback: What I Am Without: A Sonnet | bhavnasultana

  13. this is very well done! Nice piece of art!

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