Michael Mlekoday

THE HISTORY OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN KILLED BY THEIR OWN INVENTIONS

is required reading for all students majoring in robotics. The book’s subjects are presented not as victims of hubris, but of pure ambition. Most of them had the same dream. Sure, there have been outliers: the woman who invented a radioactive paint, the guy who came up with the silent treatment. There was even a man who tried creating a cologne called Natural Causes—his autopsy was inconclusive. The bulk of them, though, wanted to fly. Wooden wings, parachute-coats, hang gliders, jetpacks, new methods of fasting, transhumanist surgeries. The list spans virtually every religion, every culture, every age. They have fallen from pyramids, houses, and the Eiffel Tower. (Should we count the children trying to invent superhero capes from bed sheets? The hopeless trying to invent a way out?) The one thing all of them had in common: they needed to test their inventions on themselves, to be the first to name things as they are from above. None of them slept the night before. All of them chose their last words carefully.

SELF-PORTRAIT WITH POLLINATION

I will make something of you both juniper
and ipecac. A month of night.
Something that sings like a housefly
moments before the palm,
that cracks like a bottle or window
in winter. Although it is the oldest invention,
the first time you built a fire
is something to remember.
The other times, less so.
Tonight I didn’t kill anything.
Tomorrow I will
sell flowers by the pound,
the neighbors will smash them
into their noses and close their eyes.

This poem is featured in issue 1:4’s blog forum.