AI Winter

Sridala Swami

In these last and terrible days there’s still a kind of perfection in choosing the moment of one’s death. Drona hears your name spoken and detaches himself from his body. From this moment on, he is pure intelligence. You call it soul and you sing its ascendance. You feel his death in the gleam of the jewel embedded like fate into your forehead.

It is now a frozen land you traverse. You follow celebration but you can never participate in it. Aim at the sky. That bird that hovers burns everything in its sight, follows or precedes you, you’re never sure which. Other people die but you’re sure it’s you he has in his sights. You are the one thing he has never been able to separate himself from.

He calls destruction intelligence because it is distributed and needs nothing to hold its shape. He has always been sure of his mastery over weapons but now that you occupy different states you know he is wrong every single time.The ones who die are guilty only of living.

You are guilty. This is why your wandering is eternal and your thirst unslakeable. Some nights, when you can only hear him in the skies, the blades of his vahana whipping the air until it calls your name, you freeze as only hunted animals do.You hide in plain sight.You’re good at this by now.

You want to tell him you have done your worst, that there are no pre-emptive strikes he can make upon you. Annihilation is another matter. If he could promise you destruction you would take it even if it meant a nuclear winter for this land forevermore.

But his intelligence is pure; not limitless. He is only looking for what corresponds to your soul and because he finds traces of it on the ground, he sends his astras as messengers not knowing that they have poor memories for words and faces and always deliver partial messages to the wrong people. Always the wrong people.

He, who once took from Parasurama the knowledge of all weapons, who was invincible in all things except his love for you, is now master only of these carrion birds that misremember, as they do everything else, in his name.

In these last and terrible days, death cannot be chosen, least of all yours.Your life is tied to all living things in this world. When you cease, everything ceases. Listen: when he calls you by other names,it is still a beautiful song.This is why you hide, Ashwatthama: so that you can hear these agents of death sing even if they sing other people out of existence. As long as they call names that are not yours, this awful beauty that is the winterland of the world continues for one more hour, one more day.

Sridala Swami has published one collection of poetry, A Reluctant Survivor, with a second collection, Escape Artist, forthcoming. Swami has most recently been a Fellow of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa (2013). She blogs at The Spaniard In The Works.