Healing Scars Though Robot Apocalypse

I’d like to introduce a fellow poet of mine, James D. Fuson. He writes mainly in the speculative genre; however, he hasn’t allowed labels to define his work. Nor has he allowed them to define him as a person. Labels are easy to come by these days, especially in James’s case.

Image via OTIS

Image via OTIS

In 1995, James was sentenced at 17 to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He’s still there. And unless sentencing laws are changed and made retroactive, he will stay there for the rest of his life. He makes no excuses for his actions, which led to the deaths of two innocent people. He also understands that he can never make up for any of the pain and suffering he’d caused.

Because of his actions, several labels [insert your favorites] are tattooed across his back. These tattoos glow with a virulent florescence. No matter what good he does, he will most likely never outshine them. But that doesn’t stop him from trying. Even in a place as dark and morally devoid as prison.

20 Years cover

In the introduction to his haiku collection, Twenty Years: Reflections of an Empty Sky (Soft Sculpture Press, 2014), James writes:

“’Prison is not for the naive, and a kid, regardless of how much he thinks he knows or how wise he thinks he is, is not ready for it. One of two things will happen to that kid: he will either break and become part of the machine or get tough and grow into a stronger individual. Either way, prison will leave a black stain on his soul. Regardless of what he grows to be, no matter what he learns or becomes, the abuse, alienation, loneliness, and frustration will leave a scar that remains until he dies. It then comes down to this: How does he heal this scar?”

While not all of James’s work focuses on prison or other dark topics, he loves to write about apocalyptic landscapes—zombies, plagues, aliens, you name it. When we discuss collaborating, he always manages to slip in a shambling corpse or other such device that indicates humanity’s impending doom. His favorite apocalypse, however, is the robot apocalypse.

There isn’t enough robot apocalypse stuff out there. Even reading social lit that uses comparative references to genre themes, robots never come up, although the menace of heartless, emotionless, sometimes faceless, machines are a no-brainer for comparisons for some social ills. They give you that relentless, unrelateable threat to which there is no negotiation or plea. It’s scary enough when they’re our own creation, but when they come from beyond, from some unknown source, they’re even scarier. And not those robots that are a “metal endoskeleton surrounded by living tissue.” Gears and hydraulics, wires and blinking lights. Totally inhuman.

Okay, maybe a little bio-organic mass is cool; metallic grayish with some kind of moisture covering it. Whatever brings out the nightmares.

I’ve invited James to contribute to A Speculative Poetry Blog. In fact, he may occasionally appear as a guest blogger. Until then, here is a sample of James’s robot apocalypse haiku (none of which appeared in the collection Twenty Years).

giant robots
invading earth
childhood fantasy

(Originally appeared in Star*Line 38.2)

doomsday robot
unleashed on the populace
zombies scatter

fall from the sky
robot apocalypse


Horrorku #4


opening door
to the woodsman’s cellar
a dryad screams

Horrorku #3


ancient oak
surrenders to the woodsman
a dryad screams

Unreal to Real

zombie restaurant
live physicist tank

I’d posted that horrorku (horror haiku) on Facebook. I didn’t care if I got a response, I was just doing what everyone else is doing on Facebook – sharing. Two weeks later I accumulated a grand total of three “likes” and one comment, the latter being from none other than my wife. “I never know what he’s talking about,” she wrote. “Lol.” What she was really saying was, “I really don’t care for your poetry, Babe, but I support your love for it.”

She does. From the hours I spend at my desk to the stacks of printed pages lost to revision, she won’t interfere as long as I am enjoying myself. (If I told her I was quitting my job to focus on my body of work… Well, I probably wouldn’t have much of a body left to speak of.) But honestly, as much as I value her support, I’d accept some friction every now and then if she understood what I was “talking about.” It’s not just her. I expect puzzled looks when I share my poetry.

I’ve shied away from explaining my poems because of that same underlying fear I spoke of in Short Answers, that fear of saying the wrong thing. Also, I feel that if I explain one of my poems it will go supernova and then what’s left of its meaning will be sucked into the ensuing black hole. But then again, I guess that can’t do much damage to a tiny poem that accumulated a mere three “likes.”

The first step in understanding my poem is to understand what a speculative poem is. In a Strange Horizons editorial,“The Idea of the Real,” Mark Rich explains that “in speculative poem, the poet presents an unreal world as though presenting a real one.” And according to Grand Master speculative poet Bruce Boston, what separates speculative poetry from mainstream poetry is that “[s]peculative poetry has more to do with the imagination, the world of dreams and the world as it could be. (Read more of Bruce Boston’s interview with John Amen in The Pedestal Magazine here.)

In the context of my horrorku, in the “unreal world” as a “real one,” zombies exist. With that fact established, I imagined that, since zombies do indeed exist in this world, there would be five-star restaurants that catered to zombies with discriminating tastes. And taking my premise one step further, instead of live lobsters, this restaurant would offer a fresh selection of physicists—who, of course, have the choicest brains.

Instead of sucking out all the meaning of the following poem, however, I’ll just conclude by offering a little insight into its premise. It comes from a series of poems I’ve been working in which melds modern astronomy with Greek and Roman mythology. In the unreal world that I present as real, I speak directly to Io (once Juno’s high priestess, now one of the four Galilean moons) about how she found herself in her predicament for having an affair with Jupiter.

Io’s Reality Check
by Kurt MacPhearson

You’ll find no sympathy,
because Juno’s tears were more than irritation
from your stealthy plumes of sulfur dioxide.
It doesn’t matter
if you couldn’t resist Jupiter’s charms.
You were her priestess, dammit!
Yet you still simmer beside your peers,
just because, to avoid getting caught,
he temporarily transformed you into a heifer.
Give thanks.
You could have ended up like Medusa.
Europa surely doesn’t care.
They’ve got enough problems.
Why should they worry about the internal stress

from the command Jupiter still wields
over your heart.

Quit pretending.
We all know its iron.
Your tantrums don’t fool anyone.

Just be content with the fact
that instead of becoming one of four moons
that got Galileo’s attention,
Juno could have turned you

into a sow.

Originally appeared in Dreams and Nightmares #88