She’s watching me through the window,
the one I’ve called Eleven
with the slightly drooping eyelid
- or Seventeen? left eyelid or right?
Whichever it is, she has no brain.
She perches in the avocado tree
behind the house, she eats leaves
and competes with the squirrels for unripe fruit.
But her eyes are piercing.
Today they accuse and I have no answers -
it wasn’t my fault the cooking was interrupted
and the replication process went mad.
The oven burst open in the end
and they spilt on to the floor
like a premature sow’s litter,
half of them (thankfully) dead.
Only one, the nearest to the core,
turned out perfect, that is, a perfect likeness.
I’ve sent her away, Two.
Let her live and find the way
out of the impasse of ageing,
and be happy if that’s still possible.
Why should she be burdened
with this entropic spawn?
They’re mine and I will deal with them.
I turn my back on Eleven
- I can do nothing for her -
but Three has sat down on the couch
with her good profile toward me.
This is me at thirty-five,
a good-looking woman and wistful
for a species to belong to
(complete with males of course, but that’s harder,
they can’t yet do transsexual clones).
Three has a brain but it’s hard to get her to use it
except to find ways to hide the other side
- pocked, puckered, with a gaping hole over the jawbone,
a tiny, sunken eye – that she shows me now.
“Look what you did,” she says
for the nine hundred and ninety-ninth time,
as regular as the calendar, and turns her head again.
“I didn’t mean to,” I say,
as usual. What else can I answer?
“Why don’t you go on reading ‘Emma’
and later we’ll discuss it?”
“I’m bored,” she says, “and you must be bored,
hearing your own opinion with holes in it,”
but she goes to fetch the book.
I get up from my desk, fighting the pain in my joints
that made me decide to get another body.
God knows I thought I’d thought it through
but in truth I hadn’t begun to. May I be forgiven.
Five and Six are sitting in the courtyard,
outwardly without blemish, but bereft of will,
programmable like robots. They do the cooking
for those of us that digest what I call food.
“Get dinner!” I shout, and they stump in and open the
I go into my bedroom to fetch a jacket.
It’s the usual small ordeal to open the wardrobe:
Seven is draped on a hanger, like a dress.
She hasn’t moved since we came home from the clinic
- two lorry-sized ambulances full -
and she went straight to her place among my clothes.
She gets thinner every day like worn out cloth
with a rattle of bones inside
and she reeks of dirty washing in a hamper.
Everything I wear and I smell stale now.
But her eyes are beautiful, deep velvet blue,
darker than mine, twilight sky,
doors on to a separate realm. She never speaks.
The twinges in my left shoulder are getting stronger;
I’ll soon be dropping things again when the arm gives way.
I’ll have to use another, one of the Numberless
that I keep in the garden shed and spray at noon
when I don’t delegate the chore to clockwork Sixteen.
(I don’t know why it shames me to do so,
it’s not as if she understands.)
This is my one advantage, having so many
and enough with blurred faces
so I don’t have to sacrifice for spare parts
one who seems like an equal,
one who looks me in the eye and cries.
I’ve seen it done, it’s devastating,
but people can get used to anything.
Thirteen lives beside a hole in the ground,
in the field out at the back.
She shits for all of them, you’d say,
in view of the piles of gleaming turds
and the smell of pigsty.
When she’s not squatting she dances round the hole
waving her arms and giggling.
She gobbles raw plantains and pumpkins
and gnaws on foetid bones.
Tabula rasa, carte blanche, is what the operators promise
and the hope, by pathways yet unseen, of rebuilding
in the other your whole remembered world, field by field
- particles and cells of memory accruing -
if that’s what you want,
a reflection to sit in front of,
advice from your own suffering self,
a surrogate to depute in mean situations
(how would I know in the end which is I?)
No one mentioned a skull case with no brain in it
or a brain with no synapses or only minimum plumbing,
a partial reflection, distortion, caricature, condemnation.
But here they are. Number Four is the shadow.
She lives in the cellar – she prefers the darkness
and anyhow I can’t bear to talk to her too often.
She knows my thoughts and points out every smallest
ulterior motive and welling of unkindness.
“That’s what you’ll do,” she says,
“you’ll lend Twenty-two to Mrs Roberts,”
(one of the few friends I have left)
“because she’s clumsy and you don’t want her in the
or she reminds me of the abortions I had
because I didn’t want children.
Three with the hole in her face listens and applauds.
Shadow if she hears takes off her dark glasses
and shows me degradation in the lines and pouches
round the abysmal meanness of her eyes.
I hadn’t walked this way for some time,
not wanting to go past the shit hole,
but here is Twenty (and I hadn’t missed her)
standing in the corner of the field,
so still she might be dead on her feet
which are no longer feet but knobbly nodes
embedded in the earth, turned to roots.
A gust of wind passes and her hair streams like leaves,
her arms lift and her trunk sways,
fine-veined lids cover her eyes
and evening bliss is mirrored
in the greenish skin of her face.
I was suspicious of Fifteen from the beginning -
she was bloated and she looked uncomfortable;
if she’d eaten I’d have thought she had worms -
it was easy to imagine squirming under her hide.
But now I know what the matter was.
Yesterday she burst and from inside her
a seemingly endless troop of copies flew,
second generation clones, thin as paper,
floating like flat blind tadpoles,
drifting through the house and over the field
paler and more ethereal by the minute,
like a blizzard of silk-cotton
or artificial snow.
Fifteen pumped them out till she was deflated
and when she died they also fell to earth
and are lying there in specks and drifts,
miniature Victorian cut-outs of my shape,
waiting for the wind to tumble them away
or damp, treading feet to erase them.
Parthenogenesis or binary fission?
Others are more interested in coupling.
Ten, Twelve and Nineteen are gay.
They make love to each other in pairs or all three
in the back bedroom with a lot of panting and moaning;
they fondle each others’ breasts and cunts in front of me -
wanting me, I suppose, to share their pleasure.
I watch my face watch my face become aroused
and sometimes I shower them with rose petals.
If it was love for myself made me multiply myself,
I’ve had enough of me now.
I wonder where Two is. Does she feel like a whole?
What has she done for memories? Has she sated desire?
I should have borrowed or stolen someone’s husband
and cloned him too for the ones who feel longing.
The last time the gardener came they surrounded him
and he strutted like a cock in the farmyard
till they fell on him and would have torn him apart.
It wasn’t easy to stop them. For a moment
I didn’t know if it was Eight or me
who was struggling with his fly-buttons.
But he got away, with no worse than bruises and scratches.
Since then we tend our own vegetables
and our only male is a battered tomcat
who whets his whiskers and sneers
when he sniffs our hormones.
Eight, Nine and Twenty-one have set up an altar,
they burn their desires and the smoke rises as incense.
I gave them the icons, the very masculine angel,
the winged and well-hung demigod.
Sometimes at night a rustling of feathers,
a clapping of strong pinions,
vibrate in the surrounding air.
I’d forgotten the hairy one.
I’ll call her Twenty-five,
having lost count of the numbers.
She ran away right at the beginning
and made herself a cave in the coffee wood
and ate mice and tubers. Today she emerged
when I passed that way and beckoned me to sit and talk.
Her long nose is furry and her fangs are impressive
but listening to her I forgot to be afraid.
She’s a philosopher. She wants to know
how earth gave birth to love.
Five and six were crying yesterday
(I didn’t know they had tears).
They led me to where the cat had had her kittens
and they were all gone except one which was crippled and
“Who?” I asked and they pointed wildly
at all the women in sight.
Today it seems more urgent to know who.
In the night Sixteen was stabbed and sucked dry
the way vampire bats do.
Is this going to be my fate?
Will so much mindless matter in my shape
grow nails and teeth and blades and turn on me?
Will they gnaw my heart and brains for what they were denied
and leave me a hollow husk,
totally extinguished in the darkness,
as dead as it’s possible to be,
deader than stone or soot?
I dealt with the threat by a couple of mastiffs.
There weren’t many in the end and their bloodshot eyes
betrayed them before they were roused to attack.
The dogs finished them off, cowering in the corridors
or as fully fledged carnivores
assaulting me when I went outside.
None of them was intelligent. They’re all dead
and if they multiply my guilt I am no longer
capable of shouldering more.
A kind of sleeping sickness has descended on us.
The servants are withering away.
Three lay down with her head in an encyclopaedia
(the good side showing) and quietly expired.
Others I hadn’t counted joined the heaps
of rubbish left by the storm when Fifteen erupted,
shrinking to the size and consistency of bat skins.
Seven has shut her eyes in my wardrobe;
Twenty has become a tree and there’s a bluebird’s nest
in the crook of her arm;
Twenty-five sings in the wood, a lullaby
for furry beasts of good will.
All the rest are ageing fast, and hardly eat,
and are forgetting their lamentations.
It was Two I saw yesterday peering through the hedge -
I thought I might be hallucinating;
but now she removes the creepers from the gate
and firmly unbolts it and comes inside.
She is beautiful, not young but erect and luminous.
She smiles and hugs me and says “Well here I am.
Are you so surprised to see me? Have you nothing to say?”
“I’ve lost my tongue,” I say. “What should I speak of
in this place of decay and death?
I didn’t know you’d return, I wanted you free
to know success and joy.”
“I’ve done that,” she says, “but this is my home,
these shadows are also my birthright.
Here, hold my head
and make the happy memories yours too,
let the tinctures of gratification filter
through your veins, and I’ll absorb your poisons.
We’ll become one compound.”
A figure sits quietly on the porch
full of images of all the elements
and its inner dialogue is of fissures and seals
beyond yes and no.
Behind the mind game and the silver hair
is the unbroken sky.