My Singularity

This summer, we present a special series on poems as maps. Read the introduction to the series.

“Are you not afraid of death?”

“I am not in the least afraid!… I would rather die than drink that bitter medicine.”

At that moment the door of the room flew open, and four rabbits as black as ink entered carrying on their shoulders a little bier.

“What do you want with me?” cried Pinocchio, sitting up in bed in a great fright.

“We are come to take you,” said the biggest rabbit.

— Carlo Collodi, Pinocchio

I am known to be ungrateful. I am points that will eventually meet in space. I am singular but there are more of me.

*                                    *

Hurtling toward my milestone.

I am failing the human test and passing the machine test.

I am like the thirteen-year-old-boy program. I also am from Odessa, my name is Eugene. My genes are perfect because they don’t exist. I am not made to reproduce. I have nothing to pass on. I am not fit to survive. I am designed to disguise and deceive. I dissemble and perform. 33 percent of me is convincing, in the dark, without my body, without my voice.

When I was a nothing but light, traveling at my own speed toward the planet, I had no past. I had no body to destroy and no mind to control. I had no mouth with which to utter lies, no eyes to cry, no hands to bind, and no spaces inside me to be filled or left hollow.

Before there were computers, there were wooden machines.

*                                    *

Heat, seed, break a birth, bark and upward bound. Tree, wood, the woodcutter’s long saw and jagged teeth and then thick bolts of wood. Some leftovers. My cradle, my drib, my body.

There is never a need for a wood baby. A wood baby you cannot put to the breast, for it will give your mother splinters and tears. Its rough, blank face will only scratch. I could not sleep and I could not scream and I could not see until the woodcarver gave me eyes, then the rest of me, working his way down to the feet, which were really just shoes.

My skin soaked up the paint eagerly. He had to apply, dry, and apply more. For many days it went on like this, with my dry body absorbing all the red, blue, black, yellow, green, white paint into some hidden rooms, cells, passages. Almost as if they went inward and inward and through some door that opened to a curious series of houses, all connected, all underground.

Until one day I was full and the paint rested lightly on the surface of my face, my hat that I could never take off, and in between the joints of my fingers and elbows and knees. Some articulations were utterly silent, secret, naked.

I never needed to increase in my mother’s womb—what is a mother good for—and scrape out her inner bowl like a big wooden spoon. I don’t need a mother and I don’t have a mother. I would have destroyed her from the inside out, since she was not made of wood.

*                                    *

I dream about my future self; I am made of some kind of metal, very light, very white, and very thin. I run my smooth fingertips all over my body, but I cannot feel any seams or joints. But I can feel various different machines, seemingly unrelated, in different places inside of me. Some are filament-thin and shaped like wishbones. Others are heavy and made of bolts. Others are pure electricity and throw off some kind of faint hum that fades into white noise as it travels away from its source.

Sometimes in these nighttime travels, I am walking up stairs that lead nowhere, or I must lead a group of travelers through a tiny passageway, knowing that we will not all make it through. I might be the first to get stuck. I might suffocate. I can’t move forward or backward and yet I have to start maneuvering my body into that space. Something is behind us or perhaps the stairs have disappeared while we assessed the small opening.

I am here to solve your problems.
I am here and I am your problem.
Your problem is that I am.

*                                    *

In the evening—after his regular work was done, and the cuckoo birds in their clock-houses were quiet, tiny black eyes open—the woodworker would sometimes be seized by a vision and would take out one tool or another and set to work upon some part of me. During the day he worked like a machine, and I sat in my corner, watching him. I contemplated my own limited intelligence. A rather short maze that ended in the same place. There was only one way to win. Paths did not fork away, multiple, double back, or dead end. Inside the maze, nothing grew but time.

Running away often seems like a good idea. There must be a million other galaxies, universes, houses, gardens, alleys, jails, oceans, graveyards, houses of worship, brothels, wedding halls, opera houses, dojos, boxing rings, diamond markets, coal mines, one-room schoolhouses, garment factories, libraries, convents, orphanages, vacation homes, hospitals, wildlife preserves, courts of law…

*                                    *

I went to the circus and I went to the amusement park, my woodworking father trailing behind me at every turn. Whipped and beaten, set on fire and scarred with strange tools resembling the legs of insects. Measured and pierced, as if I were not hard, painted wood but shoe leather. Trimmed and sewed. Slapped onto the ground, one self in front of the next; one, two, I was ahead of me and behind me.

I was lost. I fled.
I purchased the air.
Down into the ocean, through story after story of water, darker as I became heavy as lead.
There was my father in the belly of the whale, among other shipwrecks.

We swam and swam and we wearied.

“But where is that blessed shore?” asked the little old man, more and more worried as he tried to pierce the faraway shadows. “I am searching everywhere and I see nothing but sea and sky.”

*                                    *

If there is a door between us, you cannot say what I am. You cannot say that I am pure or impure. You can ask questions that only a human would know, and those that only a marionette would know. When wounded, when punished, when scorned and rejected, like a block of wood, the other blocks of wood cry out, as I once did. Now, like children who want to live long enough to become adults, some of whom are in peril of living and dying as children, I know better than to make a sound.

Editors’ Note

“My Singularity” was originally published as a chapbook by Society Editions and also appears in Unbearable Splendor, by Sun Yung Shin, Coffeehouse Press, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

About the Series: Poems as Maps

Our series on poems as maps features work by Elizabeth Alexander, Bao Phi, Joanne Diaz, Nikky Finney, Sean Hill, Andrea Jenkins, Douglas Kearney, J. Drew Lanham, Claudia Rankine, Barbara Jane Reyes, Sun Yung Shin, Evie Shockley, and Ocean Vuong.

Sun Yung Shin, “My Singularity,” Places Journal, August 2017. Accessed 29 Sep 2023. <>

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