THE LIGHT THE DEAD MAKE
On the life raft, you can imagine you’re there to eat
or to be eaten. All creatures are edible to some other creature,
you think, looking down at your turkey costume. And all the rest,
the non-creatures, have their own methods of freeze and thaw
in processes that consume and accrue. You can call it
a cosmic dance, because it fits well with the soundtrack
in the documentaries. There’s a score sheet and two doors
at the end of the hall. One has a room of fire behind it
and the other has a lion that hasn’t eaten in two weeks
behind it. That’s question one. It’s a trick question,
trick life, where we throw ourselves upon the fire for
or toward each other, aware or unaware. Partially aware.
And how do we score our consciousness? What would it look like
if there’s a genius level of consciousness? Maybe that’s
what saints are, or the long suffering. Or maybe the trees
in this whole other realm of being. And what will happen
when someone creates a conscious machine,
the one we keep talking about, the one we see coming,
that imagines its wiring resembles cityscapes and traffic.
“I was wondering last night,” the conscious machine could say
one morning on the life raft, and we would turn
to each other apprehensively. Maybe the machine would turn
to us apprehensively as well, realizing its mistake.
We tell each other consciousness expands, so then
it must also contract. Something more to become or lose.
That’s training record #2, as my mother was mostly machine
by the end, breathing, eating, maintaining.
“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” the question goes
that became Blade Runner. It’s a question of consciousness,
this wandering, as my father left my mother’s
breathing machine plugged in for days after she died,
its little red light continuing to blink in the corner.
JOHN GALLAHER is the author of In a Landscape (BOA). His forthcoming collection is titled Brand New Spacesuit (BOA). He lives in rural Missouri and co-edits The Laurel Review.