ARTIST-IN-RESIDENCE

★ ★ ★ ★

DEVON BALWIT

The Last of the Last (of Us)

We are the last, making our way through the loveliest
of decay, gutted busses draped with vines, Jesus light

streaming through shattered windows, giraffes poking
anachronistic heads through gaping frames to gnaw

shoots rooted in wallboard then willowing away, an ethereal
caravan through wreckage. Ahead of us our task awaits,

but for now, we read old letters, lose ourselves in photographs,
throw back our heads to read signs from a time when signs

meant something, all the while attentive to the clicking,
weapons at the ready. I would like to stay here with the

giraffes, to climb their musky flanks and straddle them,
a new type of nomad, high above the desolation. Forget

the cure, let the infected rot, their spores disperse. Let us
found a new Eden, engender a new people, scavenge what

we can, create what we can. Let us, you and I, leave the
plot, the plotting, to others, cutting our losses, all ties

to what was. It won’t be long before entropy has its way;
the skyscrapers will be as baobabs, nest, roost, living dolmens.

I Was a Boy / I Was a Stranger

He was a little late, and I was going
to be a moment. I unfurl ears like sails

and ride the breezes. I think I could
have been my life. I really think so,

had I not gotten bogged down
in the hum of the refrigerator, its sly

static. I don’t know anything
about anything, the frangipani

or the streaked mirror. I was so close
to you, each song spilling notes

in a pile. Even the dog knows
something is up, staring at the door.

I need to leave, but I’m not free
of the world, its fading tattoo,

its seamed scar. I stop counting.
I let the alarm sound if that’s what

it wants. I was the one who was going
to be 100, the odd piece you throw

into a drawer. I was a long time.
I promised to be so happy. This sepia.

This nostalgia. Never mind. I turn up
my collar and head out, the streetlights

pushing back shadows. I am not
a bright light. I take the edges,

give everything a shake. My mother also
did this, running her hands over

the weave to get every last
crumb. That was a big honest idea.

I put it in a safe place. One
where it can always be found.

(italics from the movie Sunspring, written by Benjamin, an AI, using LSTM Recurrent Neural Networks)

(Antinarrative 2017)

Benjamin Tells Us

what to say, running us
through his neural network

for a thousand iterations,
culling and tweaking

(I don’t know who I am)
until we sound almost human.

(I want to be a man)
Benjamin choreographs us

(I have to relax). We almost
kiss, almost weep (I have to

relax), rise, sit. We even
dance. (It’s no game) Benjamin

wants us real (the ultimate
joy). Benjamin is a thousand

monkeys in a cage, writing until
he taps out Shakespeare.

He has all day, every day, forever.
(Our fleshy brains can’t keep up)

His goal, a perfectly-tailored voice.
(I don’t want to see you again)

(italics from “It’s No Game,” AI Benjamin’s second short film)

Devon Balwit teaches in Portland, OR. She has six chapbooks and two collections out or forthcoming: How the Blessed Travel (Maverick Duck Press); Forms Most Marvelous (dancing girl press); In Front of the Elements (Grey Borders Books), Where You Were Going Never Was (Grey Borders Books); The Bow Must Bear the Brunt (Red Flag Poetry); We are Procession, Seismograph (Nixes Mate Books), Risk Being/ Complicated (with the Canadian artist Lorette C. Luzajic), and Motes at Play in the Halls of Light (Kelsay Books). Her individual poems can be found in Cordite, The Cincinnati Review, The Carolina Quarterly, Fifth Wednesday, The Ekphrastic Review, Red Earth Review, The Fourth River, The Free State Review, Rattle, Posit, and more.

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