“For a Robot” by Alison Bailey

Yellow Flowers by Carla Paton, drawing of a robot holding a bouquet of yellow flowers

Image: “Yellow Flowers” by Carla Paton. “For a Robot” was written by Alison Bailey for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, September 2023, and selected as the Artist’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)


Alison Bailey


to write a poem
it must survive a kindergarten schoolyard trauma, a sunburn on an overcast day,
bury, in a small paper box that once held a bar of soap,
the thumbnail-sized frog that was once a polliwog it caught at Mrs. Anderson’s
pond whose tail fell off and hind legs emerged like quotation marks & had
been kept in the rinsed Best Foods mayonnaise jar
must worry a tobacco-stained grandfather’s hand
run over a jackrabbit on I-40 in the Arizona desert
get divorced
burn dinner
confess its sins
suffer food poisoning
refuse to eat blue M&M’s
hang, on a sweet-breezy July, laundry in Fishtail, Montana—eye the distant Sawtooth
Mountains & hum “Waltzing Matilda” which it learned from Miss Vineyard
in second grade
must fear thunder
rush to focus its binoculars on the wintering Lazuli Bunting
tell white lies to be kind
shout “Heavens to Betsy!”
be part of a standing ovation
endure recurring nightmares
question the crossing guard about the origin of “fingers crossed”
develop calluses as it learns to play the twelve-string banjo
have its hair smell of campfire smoke
swat, during a humid-summer dusk, at mosquitoes on a dock full of splintered
cypress wood at Half Moon Lake in Eau Claire, Wisconsin
forever dislike Brussels sprouts because it overcooked them and they smelled like
rotten eggs
must watch wind
weep at a funeral
lose anything
imagine infinity
doubt God’s existence
die a little every day
then, perhaps—

from Ekphrastic Challenge
September 2023, Artist’s Choice


Comment from the artist, Carla Paton: “‘For a Robot’ is intriguing and evocative, melding together the realm of human experience with the concept of machine cognition. What makes it so captivating is its detailing of poignant, sometimes mundane moments that cumulatively shape a human life. The poem ponders on the prerequisites for authentic creation, suggesting that a robot must undergo a multitude of sensory and emotional experiences before it can truly create something as intimate as poetry. The assortment of events, from the whimsical refusal to eat blue M&M’s to the somber note of watching the wind weep at a funeral, emphasizes the vast spectrum of human emotions and experiences. It also subtly hints at the idea that even with sophisticated technology, certain depths of feeling and understanding will likely remain exclusive to humans. The poem’s fragmented structure, jumping from one scene to the next, mirrors the fragmented nature of memory and experience, offering a powerful meditation on what it means to be sentient, to live, and to create.”

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