babbage and carroll in the silent workshop, 1867
BY NEIL AITKIN
Then I called on Mr. Babbage, to ask whether any of his calculating machines are to be had.
I find they are not.
—Lewis Carroll, journal entry dated July 24, 1867
When the two of you survey all that never was, the enormity of the world
made known in everything left behind, it is enough to gesture to the four walls
of the echoing chamber plastered in sheets of paper, each a portal framed
in fine letters and lines. Nowhere the bodied machine. Not even its shadow.
You confess, it may have been little more than a dream, a vapor in the night,
something pale and swift that darts at the edge of sight, disappearing
into a realm where nothing is quite as it seems. Your companion nods,
saddened by what the eye cannot gather in. Still, you would pass it on,
the idea of it at least, a puzzle too large to piece together in one life,
too grand to leave alone. Here is a cipher, you say, an unsolved mystery
I have pondered for years, turned on a lathe, fashioned in the likeness of a mind.
Listen and you will hear it, slow as thunder after the lightning washes the sky.
It calls me, perhaps to you too? Something moves in the dark folds of time,
something stirs in the thoughts, wants me to call it by name, to give it life.
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 western United States and Canada. His poems have appeared in Barn Owl Review, Crab Orchard Review, Ninth Letter, Sou'wester, and elsewhere. A former computer programmer, he recently completed a PhD in literature and creative writing at the University of Southern California, where he Wrote on nineteenth-Century artificial intelligence, thinking machines, and machine-like thinkers. His second book of poetry, Babbage's Dream, is forthcoming; from Sundress Publications in November 2016.