Ex Machina

“I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when
its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken
down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

—Stephen Hawking (d. March 14, 2018)

i.

You vanished in early spring:
Wheat stirred across the Fens as flags were lowered
on Gonville and Caius, backed by fleshy stone.

The final flicker of an immense mind
winked out in Cambridge; a shrinking star
fell into ordinary hands. Evaristus Mwakha,

Internet apostle, assured the living world:
Before he passed, “Stiph Hawkins” cast off doubt
and made his confession to the Holy Father.

Meanwhile, in the Mojave, a limo driver
launched himself into the troposphere
to prove the wisdom painted on his rocket:

FLAT EARTH. “Am I glad I did it? Yeah. I guess.”
Two thousand years of science, and the Athenian ship
coming over the horizon—

first sails, then hull appearing at great distance—
mean little, Stephen. So much for theories.
One might walk to the post office, or the bodega

on Valencia and guess, for instance,
that time is relative and grows
sluggish for anyone who waits in line.

Always, the amateur rocketeer finds the earth flat
again on his return. From the vast desert
of Southern California, he’s free to view the stars

as fairy lights. Under their steadfast canopy,
he’s free to give short interviews to local papers
and drink Blue Ribbons, toasting a mind

entirely at rest, and still alive.

ii.

For “a model of the universe,” you used
Marilyn Monroe: beautiful, and gone.
Lessons on gravity showed two of her exhibiting
twice the pull on you, whose frame grew ever smaller—
but no less easily attracted, you might have said.
Drifting at dinners, present but not
for so many champagne tables set in style,
you found it easier to leave your body,
family, and colleagues to think instead of space,
whose laws are there, and always have been there,
for those with an inward, outward eye.

iii.

Patrons at the Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience
gawk as the animatronic T-Rex burns
back to its steel bones, a glut of fire
pouring from its jaws.

Bad wiring set it off, and now it rages
while other reptiles on the Wild Walk
turn their heads, still startling the children.
The older crowd applauds the flames.

Wind summons black pillars of smoke
from the machine to pastel trailers where
the locals carry on, beating woven rugs
against corrugated siding.

Here, you might have made a joke
about nature’s indifference—or hummed, at one time,
the Feuerzauber, and thought of Siegmund
dead a full act already, let down by Nothung.

That grand, Germanic furor offered solace
in the wake of diagnosis. You played it loud,
too loud, the needle holding to its groove.
Now that’s all gone to you.

The T-Rex smolders, giving the last of its smoke.
A crowd disperses. You disappeared
in pre-dawn darkness, drawn as to a singularity
we can’t see, but somehow know is there.

Nicholas Friedman

Nicholas Friedman

Nicholas Friedman is the author of Petty Theft, winner of The New Criterion Poetry Prize. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow and Jones Lecturer at Stanford University, he is also the recipient of a Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. He lives with his wife and son in Syracuse.
Nicholas Friedman

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Author: Nicholas Friedman

Nicholas Friedman is the author of Petty Theft, winner of The New Criterion Poetry Prize. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow and Jones Lecturer at Stanford University, he is also the recipient of a Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. He lives with his wife and son in Syracuse.