Poem of the Week | July 10, 2017

This week, we are excited to offer a new poem by Alexandra Haines-Stiles. Haines-Stiles is a graduate of Harvard and Oxford, where she studied twentieth-century literature and language as well as creative writing. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Mays Anthology, Hanging Loose, Copper Nickel, Matter, and elsewhere. She lives in New York and London.

Author’s note:

I have an abiding fascination with the mechanisms and meanings of new technology, then and now–the development of written language, the creation of the printing press, the history of aviation, the magic of the internet. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about contemporary inventions as intersection of ancient and modern myth. I was very moved by Jason Tanz’s piece in Wired on an autobiographical video game, “That Dragon, Cancer,” created by two parents for and about their young son. This poem is sort of an ekphrastic response, part of a longer cycle about the promise, and threat, of digital immortality–software as salvation.



After That Dragon, Cancer


When I rode the internet to Loveland
I met through the one-way mirror
a man who made his son into an avatar.
The boy dying, the father—a coder
of universes like ours, creator twice over—
beta-tested a new world to keep his
offspring alive in binary. The game’s
hero, uncanny echo of animate child
with a real human voice, giggled
a hopeful refrain long after losing.
With endless chances to cheat death,
there is life after life after life.


Afterwards, I could not stop thinking
about this father crouched forward
on his couch playing with his son on screen,
mastering secret moves to slay the family dragon.
Grasping at some inherent logic. Everything
is foreseen. God of a realm of his own creation,
where he knows what’s to come. You have
no lives left. In which he is no mere adult
but admin, immortal eye with power to
wrest control. Permission is granted—
by the father, the son and his cyber host.


When one day it’s game over for you and
everyone you know, no measure of re-dos
or love will change that fact. Not even Orpheus
won Eurydice after trekking through the
Underworld to get her back. The gods hid Hades
from the living for it was not ours to occupy—
that rumored zone from whence no body returns,
beyond the end of the earth, past the ocean’s bounds,
that legendary level. HIC SUNT DRACONES.


But… you’ve nearly made it!


You’re here! Enter your name, player.


Don’t look back.