“You look at the toaster and think taco.” Technological interference in video and four poems.
“Forecasts” was produced by Triple Canopy as part of its Immaterial Literature project area, supported in part by the Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts.
“FORECASTS” IS A SAMPLING OF GESTURES and excerpts from an unofficial collaboration that began in 2009, when we were both in the early stages of projects dealing with alternate futures. At the time, Cathy was writing her third poetry collection, Engine Empire, and Adam was working on his animation, Last Men. The collaboration began intuitively: through conversation, book swaps, and exposure to each other’s work. Adam gave Cathy John Crowley’s novel Engine Summer, which inspired the title of her collection; Cathy’s writing motivated Adam to create a sci-fi trade paperback to accompany his video. As the projects neared completion, we made our sharing more explicit. Cathy contributed poems to Adam’s book, creating texts to accompany animations of a nearly vacated world, and Adam began working with excerpts of Engine Empire as a point of departure for his new project.
“Forecasts” is a product and depiction of our collaborative process, of a series of informal exchanges and correspondences. The first two poems, “A Visitation” and “Who’s Who,” are excerpted from Engine Empire’s third section, set in California in the future, when human intelligence is amplified by sensory motes called smart snow. These poems track how individual consciousness becomes discontinuous when everything—private memories included—becomes instantly accessible data. The subsequent two poems, “Composition of a Sunset” and “Composition of a Sunrise,” are excerpts written as ekphrastic responses to Last Men, Adam’s paperback and video.
Inspired in part by the 1930 science-fiction novel Last and First Men, by Olaf Stapledon, the images and clips from Last Men imagine planet Earth and its human civilization in the distant future via a series of lucid vignettes and decayed visual transmissions. Using a variety of techniques—both intimate hand-drawing and heavily processed digital footage—the visual narrative of Last Men meanders between the subatomic and the cosmological. Also included are animations inspired by Engine Empire that are serving as scaffolding for Adam’s next project.
—Cathy Park Hong and Adam Shecter
You are wearing bicycle shorts though you don’t own a bike.
Outside your window, you see a flower you don’t recognize.
The voice of Gregory Peck booms: Honey Suckle.
You don’t know anything anymore.
You remember an old trivia show you watched when you were young.
The contestant went to Stanford.
You remember his name: Stan Chan.
The first question was always absurdly easy,
almost as if it was testing your listening skills.
The host asked Stan Chan what a nectarine
was closest to: a. orange, b. peach, c. banana, d. grape.
Stan chuckled: Well, I think I should know this one. It’s a. orange.
You remember the host’s expression.
You look at the toaster and think taco.
An ad pops up in the air for a trip to Cabo San Lucas.
The snow is still beta.
You feel the smart snow monitoring you, uploading
your mind so anyone can access your content.
Circuits cross and you hear a one-sided chat: Da! Da! Da!
You tap in the air for the volume control and listen to Ravel.
You refresh your feed. Nothing from him.
It is too hot here.
You hate this satellite Californian city
near the satellite tech campus
where you and your husband used to work as data scanners.
When they laid both of you off,
you tried work as freelancers from your home offices.
You used to chirp at each other like demented birds.
It’s a real chime.
A man delivering your groceries: a dozen cantaloupes.
He looks like your husband.
You think of inviting him in.
Why did you order a dozen cantaloupes?
You hear a woman crying.
Lately, you’ve been fascinated by a user-generated hologram:
An ethnically ambiguous boy pretends to drop dead from a shoot-out.
The boy wakes up when his mother comes home.
She scolds him and turns off the camera.
You blink to go offline.
It is like all the quiet Sundays of your childhood.
You think you hear your husband sigh but he’s only breathing.
He used to stare into the middle distance
for weeks until you led him gently to bed.
You tucked him in.
You wake up from a nap.
Your mouth feels like a cheap acrylic sweater.
You blink online and 3-D images hopscotch all around you.
A telenovela actress hides under your lampshade.
You switch to voice activation.
Good Afternoon! Sings the voice of Gregory Peck.
You look out your window, across the street.
Faded mattresses sag against a chain-link fence.
The mattress seller sits on a crate, clipping his fingernails.
You think of inviting him in.
You do a scan.
Gregory Peck booms: Dwayne Healey, 28, convicted felon of petty larceny.
You don’t know what to do so you pet your ceramic cat.
What? You ask. What? You want to go out? Well you can’t.
You hear a chime.
It is your former employer informing you that they cannot release
It is their 98th autoreply.
You bite your hand.
You check in on your husband.
After your husband went on roam, you received one message from him:
I am by a pond and a coyote is eating a frog. It’s amazing.
You decide to go outside.
You walk to the public park.
There is a track where people run while watching whatever
You sit on an oversize bench.
You think of your old town house with the oatmeal sofa
before you and husband downgraded to this neighborhood.
The sofa made you happy.
You need to keep up appearances.
You need to clip your husband’s nails. They are getting long.
A strangled yip escapes from you and a jogger stares at you.
You see a palm tree and it is carved up with little phallic drawings.
You make a sound like tut-tut.
You enhance the park.
You fill in the balding grass and rub the offensive drawings
from the tree. You add coconuts.
You feel your insides are being squeezed out through a tiny hole
the size of a mosquito bite.
You hear children laughing as they rush out of a bus and it sounds
far away and watery, like how it used to in the movies, when the light was haloey,
and it was slow-motion, and the actor was having a terrible flashback.
But you are not having a flashback.
Underneath the sound of children laughing, you hear users chatting
over each other, which all blurs into a warring shadow of insects
and the one that sounds like a locust is your husband,
telling you to put his stuff in storage.
Or sell it to pay off bills or
leave, why don’t you goddamn leave.
You sit on the bench until the sky turns pink.
When your former employer let you go,
they said, you are now free.
So here you are.
The crown of my head pulses, then kills me, reminding me of the day when a prick of light domed out, embalming the city in a cathode white bubble that expanded, then popped, and faces volted to a million ticks, a rattling flash stunned labor in place, and a blistered wind raced inside, leaving us gaping. Colors of the sun melt into the valley like blood-orange mushrooms sponging the trees, burning through memories of my father who once told me to ignore the pain and think of good things, but what, what good things, should I savor the candy that rattled like locust shells in a tin can, handed to me by giant soldiers who passed through like heroes then ignited—I grope for my glasses and touch a tiny mechanical beetle the size of my thumbnail. It spurs its wings and flies off, into the sunset, following the beam trails of a spacecraft that has taken the last raft of patients and I am alone, a shepherd among small things.
I am an oarless oarman. I drift until I reach Songdo the verdurous lily pad. Climate refugees sing join us through a mild torrent of snow. I am so happy I’m not missing out, so happy I’m a part of things, I hear only arias stained with Parisian glass, arias of civic phonographic importance for me, me the orphan cygnet. Yet I can’t stand duplicity, and everyone is ranked and reranked so our egos ping. Even I am ranked middling to low by my new friends and exile is imminent. I nailgun myself inside the embalmed dark of my skin and take leave. I wade gently in the knee-deep broth onto another shore when the dark of day lifts. I blink in the sherbert exposure of a sunrise. This is what I see.