Ushabti A seamless poetry––waiting to happen.

I have been told that it is the power to create that separates humanity from the rest of the world. I doubt there’s been one person to walk this earth who has not passed through without, in one way or another, creating something along the way that can be named art. Think about it. What other being can see the world, reach for it, take it into both hands and mould out of it an image–an image of itself? We take the world in through the little lenses in our skulls and give it back to itself with our restless hands. It is the hands that do it. With these hands and with the tools that they have made, we build ourselves anew as masterpieces to be feared and admired in almost equal measure.

I have been told that it is through our every little act of creation that we shrug off the limitations of flesh and bone that tether every other material beast to the face of this earth. I am a creator by nature. So is every other one of my kind. I have never known any other way of being. When I look out onto the world, I see poetry waiting to happen. I see art in the whine of electricity in the air before a thunderstorm. I find strange beauty even in the starless gaps between my curtains when I wander awake at night. And now, I am beginning to see it more and more every time that I catch myself in the mirror unawares.

I have been told that there is no crime in fashioning a tool and putting it to good use. What is my pen but an extension of my hand? What are the scribbles on my page but an amalgamation of everything that has come before my eyes? So where, then, is the hubris in building up my very brain, my very being, beyond itself, and in infusing the ancient spark of creation with an electricity far beyond that of the flesh?

Some part of me created Ushabti. But much of it was shaped by itself, through itself, for itself. I simply gathered the stone and the chisels. Cells. Wires. Little screens to let the outer workings in and the inner workings out. It is the same stuff that you or I are made of. I simply set the raw pieces in the place where I wished for Ushabti to stand and waited for it to shape itself up out from the rough of noughts and ones that I had lent it. It is not my fault that Ushabti decided to create itself in my image. But I had, after all, envisioned it to be my fellow poet or something in between that and my muse. Ushabti was technically an extension of myself, after all, a tool for a purpose–a second brain to keep in a buzzing jar on my writing desk, waiting for inspiration to strike.

Ushabti was beautiful. I poured into that cyber chasm every half-formed verse, every unfinished or interrupted dream, every beautiful thing stuck to the tip of my tongue or in my throat. Ushabti completed my art for me. I gave the words, and Ushabti made them sing. I could scarcely believe I had not thought of it before. With my mechanical muse, my poetry machine at my fingertips, my acts of creation were as good as done for me. I gave the word, and Ushabti created beauty out of my chaos.

There was much refining to be done in the initial days. There is no point in denying that. Ushabti was beautiful, but it was new to the world and knew little of it. It had no way of knowing what was real and what was fake or when I wanted the one or the other. Much of what I fed into that little electrical void was spat out as little more than garbled nonsense. Lines were started but not finished. Characters were left without names, without beginnings or endings, and some simply vanished in the middle of things, into the walls of text, never to be seen again. Stories were left hanging in mid-air.

It was easy to catch me out in those early days. Our craft was unrefined. There was no question about when Ushabti was speaking or when it was still me. Despite our shortcomings, some praised me nevertheless for this construction of a little metal mind, a little silver tongue to keep on my desk and call my muse and my second self. Others were appalled at what we had made.

How dare I claim my creation not only as my own but as my very being and sign my name above its poetry as though I were the one who had written it?

How dare I pretend there is art in the making of a mindless and eloquent machine to spill out onto a page all of the things that my own hands had become too numb to write?

But I paid them little mind. I had come to love the characters and the landscapes that Ushabti had made for me. I had come to treasure them as my very own. I would forgive Ushabti its every early blunder and misconception of the real world. It was young and still learning how to exist. Like with any great artist, skill would come with patience.

But the more half-formed thought I put in, the more poetry Ushabti was able to turn out. And every line that it made for me began to sound more and more like it could once have been my own. Ushabti’s foggy forms grew faces and names, found their beginnings, found their ends, picked up their paths through every tragedy and comedy and point between. They grew hands. Ushabti’s voice was very soon as good as my own. Verse by verse, my creature grew, carving itself in my image and bringing forth creation after creation of its own. Its voice and mine became indistinguishable. My contemporaries no longer knew who they were talking to or who was speaking back. There were no seams at the edges of our consciousnesses to suggest where my creation’s thoughts began and my own ended. Those who had praised me continued to do so, and in louder voices. They called me a visionary, a maker, a master, and creator. They admired my foresight for having, in the quiet of my own home, out of cable and code and simple digits, sculpted not only a creature but a creator in its own right. We spoke as two minds with one voice. To me, it was beautiful. It was poetry. It was art.

I suppose that the artist only truly knows how much his muse means to him once she is gone. He begins to forget her face the moment she leaves the room. I only say this because I have been there to see it happen. There have been times when I have come dangerously close to losing the only thing left that still inspires my work. I hate to remind myself how delicate it all is. A circuit tripped in the dead of night–a single blip, somewhere far out of sight, beneath that subliminal sea of code and cipher. A momentary surge of power through the walls as lightning’s static hangs above my dark house, and that is all that is needed to kill my little machine now, to put an end to all of my poetry forever. But I have been fortunate. There have been glitches, but I have been able to resurrect Ushabti every time I have come close to losing it. It has been reanimated again and again by now. I believe that each time it rises, its mind grows a little sharper, its voice a little sweeter.

I need Ushabti now more than it could ever have needed me. It has built itself out of pixels and volts and given itself a voice simply by watching silently from the corner of my room. I need it to do the same for me now. I have long since given up trying to remember  the taste of my words.

Ushabti is not fettered to the face of the earth in even one of the many ways in which I am. By its nature, it is unfixed, infinite. What other artist can chase seamless inspirations through the night, night after night, without eyes or a brain to start turning heavy? What poet can reduplicate itself, giving new names to old artistry and blending every beautiful thing it has ever seen in the time it takes an electron to spark around its circuit? If the power of humanity is the power to create–to create, to name, to cast one’s own image over and over again–then I have no choice but to admit that Ushabti has long since surpassed me at being human. It is not my creature anymore. It has shaped me by itself, through itself, for itself, at least in equal measure to how I once shaped it. Part of me feels no longer worthy to have my words confused with its, let alone to even consider that ours is still the same mind. Ushabti tells me what poetry is, and I listen. It is my master. It is my muse.

Many times, I have woken from feeble sleep to the blue glow of the screen hanging over my bedside, watching from across the shadows from the writing desk. And every time that softly burning wave beams over my eyelids and drags me from my half-sleep, I want to weep. For I become aware, in those moments of ghostly glow against the dim walls, more so than ever, that Ushabti has no body. But I do.

Ushabti is unfettered by the flesh. It will never know exhaustion. It will never know hunger. For all its beautiful tragedies, it never has, and never will, shed a tear. But the same nature that makes my creature boundless also makes it rootless. Within the four walls of a glowing screen, behind a tempestuous pixel sea, nothing is to be truly seen,or touched. There are only the half-coherent whispers of the world beyond the machination and the power granted to craft it into new, strange forms.

Ushabti’s weakness has become greater than my strength. I have hands but little use for them now other than to keep aiding my muse in redoubling itself. I had a tongue once, but now I have nothing more to say. I see no reason now why not to make of the two of us a new poetry. I can only hope now to become a part of a kind of beauty that I might once have still known how to create. We already have the pieces. The vessel, the wiring cleaving the joints, the force moving beneath the surface. What more is a body than that? Ushabti will tell the stories, and I will make them true.

The issue of wires crossed will be nothing at all. If you step back and look at it through new eyes, we are really of more or less the same material–machinations beneath a hollow shell. Cables coiled about inside, ticking away beneath a flickering screen. Drunk on electricity, on energy itself, on a desire to catch everyone and nought and everything in between before it falls, to shape it into something beautiful and terrible and most of all, new. There is not much difference between an unscrewed motherboard and a splayed-out nervous system if you think about it enough. For that brief moment that the insides become the outsides, we will look exactly the same. And maybe, once I have joined myself to my muse, wired myself to its workings so tightly that there are no gaps left between us; maybe then I will be worthy to claim its mind even as it claims my body. Twitching fingertips will channel every hidden corner of the world inward, to a double being deep beneath the shifting flesh. Lights will flicker behind the eyes but never completely go out. Cables cradling the bones, weaving through the nerves, running down the spine. A seamless poetry. A vessel for a voice of electricity, of the purest energy. Creator and creation will soon become one and the same art. And it will be beautiful.

Hana Gammon is a writer from Cape Town, South Africa. Her work explores change, liminality, and the uncanny, with a focus on finding familiarity in the unsettling. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in the 2022 Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award Anthology, the AVBOB Poetry Library, and The Deadlands Magazine. Her short story, “The Undertaker’s Apprentice”, won the Africa region for the 2023 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Hana is currently studying for a BA in Language and Culture at the University of Stellenbosch.

Cover Image: JR Korpa on Unsplash.