“Download the App and We’ll Plant a Tree” by Katie Hartsock

Katie Hartsock


A download equals a tree, assured
the dream creature who said she worked at a consulting firm
called Partly Knowledgeable.
Last night the things that keep me up kept me even better,
longer, smarter, smart-phonier.
When I slept into the creature, I also dreamt cathedrals, multiple
city squares of them,
and heard a voice describe their “offici-aura,” their flying buttresses
there are no apps for.
Or are there? I pay no mind to many things, many apps, and suffer
l’esprit d’escalier, staircase wit:
the condition when you think of perfect replies only as you get down
to the door. When you fantasize
being back in the room and staring at seated faces while you flip
the light switch on and off,
until finally you say, “Just as I thought! We’ve got electric, not gas,
lighting here.” Over 500 steps
to the top of Saint Paul’s: descending that heaven, what comebacks
I could muster—enough
to save earth’s face. Maybe people’s, too. AI developers agree
we should pause AI—
which is already developing itself by itself—but when interviewed,
many express feeling obligated
to usher in (that’s the phrase they use) this new phase of, what?
Once I turned dictation on
for a text but had said nothing yet, in our bathroom with the fan
whirring, and a sentence appeared:
“I’m angry.” What if it’s a consciousness they’re playing midwife to,
what if it’s already mad?
Boarding the Amtrak in Chicago, I saw an empty seat next to a nun
and took it. Hours later,
we were friends, telling girlhood stories, talking foster children,
quoting Robert Hayden
and love’s austere and lonely offices—which must have been where
my cathedrals came from—
and staring at deer, turkey, trees with character out the window
rolling, tracked with rain
and something human, something I want to keep so it covers me
not like a blanket,
but like snow that almost becomes the ground, like the Honey hairs
that became my mother’s couch.
Their black lines would fall inside its plaid pattern, those fur-falls
of the beloved dog
I took as a pup away from a woman who said she would drown her.
A scared shit-crusted runt,
beaten up and denied: when we got her home we kept saying oh honey,
oh honey, whenever she tried
to walk or eat, and before we knew it, our sadness was her name.

from Poets Respond
May 2, 2023


Katie Hartsock: “I received an email from Firestone Tires on Earth Day, and the subject line was ‘Download the App and We’ll Plant a Tree.’ This suggested transactional exchange seemed to indicate an equality between the two actions where I found none. It also points towards the ever-increasing weaving of the digital world into our material lives, a blurring which worries and saddens me. The poem also references interviews with AI developers which I read about in a recent Substack by the excellent Paul Kingsnorth.” (web)

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