About the Poems
by Matthew Shindell
I was living in a house in Takoma Park, MD. It was not my house; I was only watching it for an old professor of mine who was off on Fire Island with his wife and two kids. Though every bedroom in the house was empty I slept in a makeshift room that had been set up in the basement for the family’s outgoing, soon-to-be-married-to-a-drug-company-rep au pair. The summer was hot and humid, the house had no air conditioner, and in the basement I was nearest to the brand new dehumidifier. There was a clock on top of the dresser when I arrived. I can’t sleep with the ticking of clocks and so I put the thing in a dresser drawer underneath my socks until the day I left.
It rained constantly that summer. The ground outside was saturated and the basement leaked. Streams of water ran across the floor every day. Mornings and evenings I spent some time moving boxes of books that couldn’t find a place in the overflowing upstairs library, hoping I could help them avoid getting wet. The basement was also stocked with boxes of all sorts of canned goods, dry goods and bottles of water – all acquired in preparation for whatever form the next terror attack would take. Bang or whimper. Would it matter? I decided I must proceed as though it would. I moved these boxes, finding spiders of all shapes and sizes in the gaps between them. I ate a few things from the boxes – mostly a cashew here and there – meaning to replace them at some point so as not to reduce the family’s survival time in the post-apocalypse. The family will be of utmost importance.
When it was not raining, I grilled lamb in the backyard. I must have eaten a lot of lamb that summer. I probably would have eaten more in better weather.
I had a job. I had an internship at a large science organization headquartered in a large black marble building in downtown DC. I worked there every day drinking coffee and sifting through survey results that had to do with American attitudes on science and religion. I had a crush on a woman who worked on the floor above me. When I was not working at my desk I took my coffee upstairs and bothered her at her desk. I went to movies with her sometimes, Hitchcock’s South by Southwest and Elvis’s Jailhouse Rock. We even once found one of those fortune-telling machines where the gypsy’s head and hands live inside the glass box. We had quarters. The gypsy told her that she talked too much. I didn’t agree. On our way to the train we took turns holding the umbrella.
On the plane from Phoenix to DC, I had read a book of essays by scientists discussing the place of religion in their lives and labs. A few of the essays were by computer scientists who were working on AI. A lot of what they said about the possible importance of embodiment for the success of AI stuck with me and made me think about my own embodiment. F rankly, I’ve never acquired a taste for embodiment. I never came to any great or sophisticated conclusions about what any of it might mean, but I sat down in a café in Takoma Park one rainy Saturday afternoon and wrote this poem.
Oh. I also spent part of this summer in Florida trying to watch a rocket take off for Mars and chasing NASA scientists around so I could interview them about their mission. I don’t think this made it into the poem.
Oh. My grandmother is not dead and probably will not die for another 100 years or so. This poem therefore must take place in the very distant future. It may be post-apocalyptic (my grandmother’s death is after all one of the signs). So this is my vision of the future. In the year in which this poem takes place, perhaps everything we need is provided by genetically engineered beans. In this future, the story "Jack and the Beanstalk" might be considered prophetic. However, an engineered fungus which threatens to take all of this away is most likely just around the corner. This poem tells just one story of the many that deserve to be told of life and love in the prelude to the slow war between fungus and bean – a war that brings about a general dampness, mustiness and decay that cannot be avoided.