for Nadia Cheng
When you take the future out for drinks she ends
up paying. The future looking good on paper,
the future looking good. 3D printing
organs for infants; valves for a cartoon blob
of flubber, the Squishbot DARPA wants. DARPA
sounds like Darth Vader, Dark Arts, but it’s Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency. We shop
for what we want from the smartest people we have.
When the DARPA guy shows up the first time, talks
to grad students at MIT, he says
he just wants something you can pour through a hole
and then it comes out crawling. Nadia explains
how: elephant trunk not WALL-E. Her robot’s
soft sections, valves and levers. Prototypes:
condoms filled with ground coffee, actual mechanical
valves she says, displaying disdain for what
we cannot touch. We talk The Walking Dead,
drink Corpse Revivers, eat a shitload of fries.
I ask what she calls her Squishbot, she tells me she calls
it her baby. I love using condoms to make
this baby, new being. The opposite of the body,
body: the first 3D printer, I try, delighted,
a little drunk. The future nods, indulgent.
My robot won’t kill anybody, she says of the Squishbot.
Later, I’ll watch its first movements, uncanny rise and fall
sudden, then fluid. Uncharted dangle, deliberate
lift and turn, wondrous as a brand new baby boy’s.
The winner of a 2014 Lannan Literary Fellowship and three Pushcart prizes, Jill McDonough is the author of Habeas Corpus (Salt, 2008), Oh, James! (Seven Kitchens, 2012), Where You Live (Salt, 2012), and REAPER, forthcoming from Alice James Books. The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fine Arts Work Center, the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress, and Stanford’s Stegner program, she taught incarcerated college students through Boston University’s Prison Education Program for thirteen years. Her work has appeared in Poetry, Slate, The Nation, The Threepenny Review, and Best American Poetry. She directs the MFA program at UMass-Boston and 24PearlStreet, the Fine Arts Work Center online.