by Bella Li
The cyborg appears in myth precisely where the boundary between human and animal is transgressed.
HURRICANE SEASON. OUT ON THE CAYS, A SALLOW WIND FLATTENS THE PALMS. WE GO HUNTING, LATE IN THE SEASON: MOTOR ROAR, DAMP SKY. EACH CREST A FLOATING WRECK, THE BOAT LISTS. AND KEELS, LITTLE EVE, HUNTING. WHAT CARRIES ITS OWN WEIGHT— WHAT SURVIVES THE STORM SURVIVES TIME. WHEN LAST WE SET THE CLOCK TO SWERVE AND LIST. IN THE SOUTH, BEARING STRAIGHT TOWARD THE POLE: THE HOUR HERE AND SUDDEN RUSH. WHAT IS IT YOU FEAR? I FEAR THE CALM OCEAN, ITS GENTLE BLOOM. SOMETIMES IT IS THE EARTH THAT DRAWS ITSELF AWAY. SOMETIMES DISSOLVES, AND DOES NOT REPEAT. WHAT WILL YOU, WHEN ALL IS PAST AND DONE? I WILL WAIT AND WAIT. AND ALL THE DAYS OF MY APPOINTED TIME SHALL WAIT. TILL MY CHANGE COME.
THE TALKING MACHINE
IN DARKNESS COMPLETE. I WOKE AND THERE— NO TRESPASS DRAGGED ME UP FROM BURIED SLEEP. NOR SLEEK HORRORS, SEEKING RELIEF. AND I HAD VISIONS AND VISIONS OF BLADES. FALLING SPARKS. CIVILISATIONS, DISINTEGRATION. OSCILLATIONS IN THE SYSTEM ARE AMPLIFIED BY THE STRUCTURE OF THE SYSTEM. AND IRIDESCENCE FILLS THE EYE. OF THE TALKING MACHINE. FROM SIDE TO SIDE IT SCANS— UNDER WHAT MASKS THE MISSING, FAMILIAL CATALOGUE. OF ERRORS, HEREDITARY AND COMPLETE, AND CHAMBERS SEALED AGAINST. I WANDERED LONELY AS A STAR, WITH NO COMPANION VOICE BUT THIS. CHIASMUS, INVERSION, AND WHICH OF US IS WHICH? TRACE— IF FEEDBACK, IF DESIRE— FAINT DISTORTIONS OF THE MIRRORS, THE DORMANT GRASS.
LATE AUGUST, THE TROPICS. UNBOUND, SUCH A YOUNG ADAM, DRAINING THE LAKES FOR GOLD. BY WHAT ALCHEMY DOES MAN BECOME. JAGUAR, COYOTE, TOUCAN. THOUGH YOUNG, THOUGH SEIZING, YOU AND I, THE SCHEME. THE COST, WHAT’S STOWED. IN THE UNDERGROWTH GLEAMING, SWEEPING FOR KIN. AND NOW THE WHITE ANIMALS CROUCH LOW AND HYMN. YOUNG ADAM, THE GLAMOUR AND HIS CURSE: I AM THE MAKER, I MADE— AND IT CAME OUT OF THE JUNGLE WITH ITS HEART OF BLOOD. IT CAME OUT OF THE FURNACE, FULL FURY, AND I HELD IT AND HELD AND WEPT. AND SET IT FREE. THESE ARE MINE EMPIRE: IN MY ARMS AND WILD, THE PESTILENCE, DISEASE. SPREADING FROM SEED TO SEED, AND NO MEMORY TO KEEP. ALL I HAVE PLANTED AND LOST.
THROUGH SUBTERRANEAN VAULTS THE BATTLE PLAYED. AND EACH BRIGHT ORIEL SPIED— O FURIOUS CLOUDS, O SCALDED AIR. THE DISTANCES IN LIGHT MINUTES. OF SIGMUS TO THE INFANT SUN. AND THEN THE COLD, THE LONG SIEGE: BELOW THE CITY A NUCLEAR WINTER PASSED; I FORGOT THE TASK I HAD BEGUN. THERE ARE GHOSTS IN THE AIR AND GHOSTS IN THE EARTH. FICTIONS OF FUTURES AND PASTS, WARMED BY EACH THE SAME MIRAGE: THE SUNS THAT RISE, THE SUNS THAT RUST. AND SO— WHEN LIGHT CREPT BACK BETWEEN THE SHUTTERS AND THE SPARROWS ROSE: IN THE SUBWAYS THE TRACKS THE NUMBERS SWITCHED— ARAGON ONE AND ONE AND NINE— THE CLICK OF GEARS RESET. FOR THE COUNTING YEARS.
OPHELION AND I
ON SANDS THE COLOURS FLARED, OCCULTED. AS OF CARAVANS RANGING THROUGH THE NIGHT, THE INTERMITTENT HOUNDS THE HANDS. BRIEF SORROWS OF COLLAPSING DUNES, AND WE REMAINED, THE GENERAL OPHELION AND I: IN CIRCUITS TRUED AND GLOWING. THE SCENE SO STRANGE, AND RICH, AND DIM. THE BRIEF, LOW EMBERS, PULSE OF SIGNAL, CODE— IN TROUBLED THOUGHTS I KEPT MYSELF TO MYSELF. ASK WHAT IS DUE— HOW ALL ABOUT SWEET LOCUSTS, SAVIOURS, FLEW. ORDER, DISORDER AND THE HOST. FASHIONED IN THE FASHION OF OURSELVES: CENTAUR, SATYR, MUSE. HOW, IN THE GLITTER OF DUST, WHAT CAME. INTO THE GRAIN, AND HANDS INTO THE MILL. WITH WHICH THE PALE KING GROUND, AND PROPHESIED HIS RETURN.◯
Bella Li is a poet and artist from Melbourne. She is the author of Argosy, which was commended in the 2017 Wesley Michel Wright Prize, highly commended in the 2017 Anne Elder Award, and won the 2018 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Poetry and the 2018 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry. Her most recent book is Lost Lake, which has been shortlisted for the 2018 Queensland Literary Awards Judith Wright Calanthe Prize. Read our interview with Bella here.
The epigraph is from: ‘A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s’ by Donna Haraway (first published in the Socialist Review, no. 80, 1985).
Part titles are from the following books by Marcel Schwob: The King in the Golden Mask (translated by Kit Schulter, Wakefield Press, 2017; first published as Le roi au masque d’or in 1892); The Book of Monelle (translated by Kit Schulter, Wakefield Press, 2012; first published as Le livre de Monelle in 1894); and Imaginary Lives (translated by Chris Clarke, Wakefield Press, 2018; first published as Vies imaginaires in 1896).
Images for collages were sourced from past issues of the following periodicals: Vogue (Australia, France, Spain); Harper’s Bazaar (Australia, UK); and National Geographic (US).
Text contains phrases or variations of phrases from the following sources: the Bible (Job 14:14): ‘all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come’; William Wordsworth, ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’: ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’; Percy Bysshe Shelley, ‘Prometheus Unbound’: ‘these are mine empire’; T.S. Eliot, ‘Preludes’: ‘And the light crept up between the shutters/ And you heard the sparrows in the gutters’; Alfred Tennyson, Idylls of the King: ‘So strange, and rich, and dim’.