Stone Telling

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The Clock House

by Sonya Taaffe

        "Be kind, resourceful, beautiful, friendly, have initiative, have a sense of humour, tell right from wrong, make mistakes, fall in love, enjoy strawberries and cream … do something really new."
           —Alan Turing, "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" (1950)

       Come ghost out of the machine, Christopher,
       the clouds are gathering in Cheshire and Aquila
       and beyond the darkening lens
       the last of the boy-martyrs are being put to bed
       with a glass of milk and an apple,
       immaculate faces sweetly sleeping out
       wars, plagues, apologies.
       Here is Prospero of the decision problem
       who drowned his books in cyanide
       and his wanly smiling Ariel,
       long freed from the equivocations of flesh,
       the absent-minded atheist and his good angel
       haloed with the sun in hindsight
       over Canal Street and a saint's blue shoulder—
       Christopher, as if you never fought
       or fucked in Alan's muddled, book-racked room
       between the bicycle clips and the chess notations,
       Ravel's concerto crackling on the 78
       that late, wet spring of '32.
       You took Wittgenstein's classes and a double First
       and wrote of numbers as real as identities,
       irrational, integral and complex,
       a light-lashed theorist with a dark, diffident glance,
       not talking of night gasps or sunlit, starch-white beds.
       He was your runner, bearing back like laurels
       the hot smudge of lakeland heather
       or the breakneck shiver of Sark's summer waves,
       your pillow book of the night-lit ward,
       reading his dark hair with sweating fingers
       until your fever broke and no one's heart with it.
       He sent punch-cards for postcards,
       his war work as vague
       as yours was a simple arithmetic
       of empty seats and chalk-cold afternoons,
       the endless subtracting of Cambridge,
       stained glass, coal, and undergraduates.
       You thieved his tea-mug
       off its chain each time, a pair of profs
       to choose between—the thin twist of wrists
       like piano wire, a static crackle of a laugh—
       unbreakable cipher and key of Dilly's Grecian eye.
       Your parents met him at the graveside,
       hatless and mannerless, an old page of fixed stars
       fisted in his pocket like a ring.
       Your daughters met him on Market Street,
       their shabby, alchemical half-uncle
       who bought them ice-creams
       and told them the story of Snow White
       and maybe still, long before you, died.
       This is where you disappear, Christopher,
       the vanishing point Alan ran to
       as his program was pulled from its tapes.
       What can I construe from a letter, a photograph?
       The body is safe as glass houses,
       the mind a black box.
       I can smash these screens, but I cannot know you
       any more than a message from the unseen world—
       the dead who are noise and incalculable
       and memory the most passing machine of all,
       Christopher, unless you come to tell me
       of a slow twilight on the Cam, of two voices talking drowsily
       of Delphinus and von Neumann, central limits, cinema,
       saying no, but look here, meaning love.

Poems and short stories by Sonya Taaffe have won the Rhysling Award, been shortlisted for the SLF Fountain Award and the Dwarf Stars Award, and appeared in anthologies such as The Moment of Change: An Anthology of Feminist Speculative Poetry, People of the Book: A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction & Fantasy, Last Drink Bird Head, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, The Alchemy of Stars: Rhysling Award Winners Showcase, The Best of Not One of Us, and Trochu divné kusy 3. Her work can be found in the collections Postcards from the Province of Hyphens and Singing Innocence and Experience (Prime Books) and A Mayse-Bikhl (Papaveria Press). She is currently on the editorial staff of Strange Horizons. She holds master's degrees in Classics from Brandeis and Yale and once named a Kuiper belt object.

Photography: adapted from Turing, by Simon Bisson.