Monday, 05 August 2019 11:46

Robots Have No Bones

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Robots Have No Bones

Robots Have No Bones (available here) is Fred Voss’s follow-up collection to The Earth and the Stars in the Palm of Your Hand, also published by Culture Matters.

Robots in the workplace – computerized metalworking machinery – mean a loss of the tactile impact of ‘working’ a machine tool. And workers are still pushed to breaking point, working long hours in poor conditions and always on the tightrope of the poverty line.

In a series of sympathetic, sometimes visionary poems, Voss takes us into the lives of the American working class, manual workers who have been betrayed by successive politicians. Technological advances like robots mean that that there is enough wealth being created for working people not to have to work so hard, for so long, and for so little – but capitalism makes that impossible.

Like the machine presses he writes about, Voss’s poems stamp in our minds the nature of capitalist work, and the way it dehumanizes us. They also remind us of the potentially revolutionary strength of working-class people, who remain undefeated in the fight with oppressive bosses, venal politicians, and the financial class whose avarice is as automatic, ingrained and inhuman as the robots they use to make profits.

Robots Have No Bones

by Fred Voss

Old men
run the manual machines in this machine shop
I left the manual machines and learned to run computer-controlled
machines
so I'd be skilled on the cutting edge of technology in case I got laid
off
and needed to find another job
but as I grow old I miss running those old machines
feeling
their handles in my palm their vibrating tool steel tables
against my thighs the smell
of their grease-blackened worm screws the trembling
of their steel blocks in their vises deep in my bones as I strained
every muscle in my body leaning on those handles moving cutters
through groaning steel
they say another wave of automation is coming
truck drivers
welders
riveters assemblers machinists replaced
by robots
and I stand at my computer machine clicking through its automatic
motions without me
and I look over at those old men with their warm hands around the
handles of the manual machines
it felt good
feeling the trembling of steel in my bones as I gripped a machine handle
and carved the steel down
into axle
so a car could roll a just-married couple laughing
toward their honeymoon
a brass oxygen valve block
so a deep sea diver could look at blue coral for half an hour deep
beneath the waves
it felt good
to feel the steel of skyscrapers bridges fire hydrants jackhammers
emergency ward door hinges
bulldozer teeth cane tips water faucets in my bones
as I made this world
it felt good
putting every muscle in my body into cutting valves for pipes so water
could flow down the parched throats
of children
the hub
of a wheelchair wheel so a painter could roll to a window and put his
last sunset
on canvas
and what will we have left
after the computers and the robots have taken over
and we pace in circles flexing
our useless hands
what will we have left
when we can no longer feel this world
in our bones
and hearts?

 

Read 342 times Last modified on Monday, 05 August 2019 12:15
Mike Quille

Mike Quille is a writer, reviewer and chief editor of Culture Matters.