A Sentimental Delusion

Mona Van Duyn

Spring 1964

“. . . There will perhaps be some men we will
not love, and some machines to which we will
become attached. If we find a being which looks
and behaves like other men and is beyond our
capacity ever to love, we must say of it that it is
only a machine. . . . Should we find a machine
which we can love, we must say of it that it has
a human nature and human powers. . . . I
preserve my humanity only so far as I am one
who is intrinsically able to love whatever can be
loved.”

Paul Weiss, “Love in a Machine Age”

When our hands touched, my darling, suddenly I heard
the ticking of tinny tales, and the only words
left in the room were ours. I looked, and the hard
lights of twelve new machines turned on me and stared.
My friends, my dears, my fellow sufferers
of pulse and gland were gone. These things shed tears
in digits, only the randomizer behind their square
visages made them wander like us, but by wires.

Then, love, for a moment I was lonely. And I knew that pleasures
were up to us. We must taste for those lost others,
consider the rounded world, and kiss among pure
meters preoccupied with heat and pressure.

When, coming closer together, we walked in the streets,
my arm in yours, I heard the noise above my heartbeat
of a hundred roller-skaters, and when I let
my eyes turn from your learning look, only great
steel crates were moving around us. Those strangers in the city
buzzed through their memory banks for some clues to how we
stood, and without a click of analogy
roared by, unprogrammed for such leaning, love’s oddity.

And then I understood, dear, that we two were the last
of the sweet speeders, body-snatchers, in a burst
and rush of joy before dark, before all the rest
wheel themselves coldly over our inconstant dust.

My cheek on your cheek, I could never have opened my eyes,
but I heard the whole globe rattle as it rolled in space,
its lands and waters stocked with metallic decoys.
We hold up history single-handed. But it says:
“Life has economies, and can’t keep long, as guests
among stiff monsters, two yielding specialists.
Long before you die, chemistry will have you cast
from your little community of two kissing beasts.”

So, love, I am afraid of love. Out of the corner of my eye
I watch for us to come uncoupled, for the dread day
when the clinch breaks, we step apart, and are free
to befriend those back to their humanity

who look at us now and see a robot pair
with sensors and effectors clamped together,
claiming our consciousness with clank and whirr,
delivering such data to each other,
that all uncoded comments lose their brightness.
Watt after watt compels us in our kiss,
and men, whose soft veins harden, envy us
our burning circuits, our immortal stress.

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