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Someone receives the call, patches it through to the outside world,
sitting in a small box behind mirrors, he signals a mechanical arm,

shifts pieces in the candlelit dimness behind a labyrinth of false gears
and pulleys.  Elsewhere, a head nods, a hand made of wood and metal gestures.

The unseen labor of the mind turns over and over till someone new steps in.
Here, always a series of workers taking their place between what we want to see

and what the machine can give us.  This performance.  This act that transcends
what we think we know about the face of the other.  There is no breath here,

and yet we listen to its hands spelling out answers to our questions.
Even now, we take this word into our ears to mean something else.

A cross, a road, a star, a slash that cuts a body into pieces. 
Sometimes a pipe.  Sometimes a sign that collides two worlds

and takes only what is common between them. If not reality,
then this shared dream of a body not quite like our own,

or a mind, waking, that emerges out of the symphony of steel
and brass, that somehow begins to sing an old familiar song.



Our faces pressed to the screen, the dull beat of numbers,
day after day.  The turn of the mechanical crank.

The machine itself, another conundrum—a simulacrum
formed of clay and metal, a dumb creature of no will

but our own.  How it sings into the dimmest hours of night,
a silence as resonant as the wail of a distant train

that only you can hear, your ears keen to the sound.
Outside our windows, the moon is a crucible of light,

the air full of strange awakenings, the first stirrings
of a thing reaching for a name.  The veil between us

as thin as a mirrored shield.  In the glass, a shadow, a twin.
At this hour, who can tell the difference between one face

and another? Thing and thing-maker, we are what we are,
the two of us pulling together to form a single passage

through the dark, and the stars above us, spilling over
with their old stories of light and nothingness.

Whatever we had to say to the mind within is gone now,
turned into a gesture, a little ghost, a secret we share like blood,

or a cancer that passes unnoticed until it writes the body anew.  


Neil Aitken is the author of The Lost Country of Sight, winner of 2007 Philip Levine Prize, and the editor of Boxcar Poetry Review. He was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, and raised in Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, and the western United States and Canada.  His poems have appeared in American Literary Review, The Collagist, Crab Orchard Review, Ninth Letter, The Normal School, and elsewhere.  A former computer programmer, he is presently pursuing a PhD in literature and creative writing at the University of Southern California.