Hot Metal Bridge

Current Issue : Number Twenty-Five

Ventriloquism

BY RICHARD SIKEN

One is the dummy and one is the voice and then there’s the matter of whose hands are where, which is probably impolite to mention. Like all magic, there’s a cone of attention — framed, a focal theater — and then there’s what you might call _the business_. One time, at work, I had a supervisor with dyslexia, or maybe she was part of the Alphanumerical Liberation Front, or maybe she was just plain stupid. For her, most things were interchangeable, which was great for scheduling but not so great for filling out forms. The Saturday person called out. We needed coverage. I watched her work the phones, find somebody, write down the name. Now sure, sometimes when writing quickly, sloppily, an “o” can look like a “6.” But no, this was a perfect six: beautiful belly, arched back. Y6landa, Saturday, 10am. That’s what she wrote. I work the Friday Overnight, which meant that I’d be relieved in the morning by Why-Six-Landa, the robot. You’re thinking maybe I’m the stupid one, and maybe you’re right, but regular-style people don’t have numbers in their names and everyone knows that robots do. I’d never worked with a robot before, so I was kinda excited, planned on staying late, just to watch her work her robot magic. Would she have buttons? Flashing lights? Would she be fully articulated? My neighbor has an artificial knee, which moves in three directions and makes her a cyborg, but robots… well, robots are a whole bunch cooler. When a ventriloquist throws his voice, he’s not really throwing anything, he’s talking through his teeth. But when a ventriloquist builds a robot, he’s throwing everything he’s got: he can even fall asleep and the robot will still run program. A singer has to show up for the piece to work. A songwriter doesn’t. Execute Song. Run Program. I’ll be over here, on the couch. I’m only closing my eyes. The shift goes by faster when you forget yourself and just run program. You still have to show up, though, if you want to get paid. I’m not sure why everyone assumes the smaller one’s the dummy, it could go either way. And which one should you watch out for anyway? Which one’s more dangerous? The empty one waiting to be filled or the sad-eyed dope spilling out from everywhere like a leaky box? Y6landa showed up at ten, on-time and not a robot, just another regular-style person clocking some hours. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed.



Richard Siken’s poetry collection Crush won the 2004 Yale Series of Younger Poets prize, a Lambda Literary Award, the Thom Gunn Award, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His poems have appeared in The Iowa ReviewConjunctionsIndiana Review and Forklift, Ohio, as well as in the anthologies The Best American Poetry 2000 and Legitimate Dangers. He is a recipient of a Pushcart Prize, two Arizona Commission on the Arts grants, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He lives in Tucson, Arizona.