A Name Machine

Inspired by Neil Hilborn


I work in a factory filled with empty corridors

Crammed between razor angles,

Droning lights,

And the pounding of stainless presses

Cracking out Idaho plates.


They tell me I’m writing—

A machine making names for machines—

Lining up letters and ripping down the lever

While the river, miles away, signs every stone in its bed

With a flourish and a story.


They tell me I’m writing—

I make names for machines.

Each solemn slam wrings my stomach.

The diamond drops drain from my fingertips

With each symbol I place.


Four years wasted on Software Engineering,

Where smiling automata on the 800th floor

Leaned their glass eyes on me from the walls—

Smiles fueled by the fumes of burned paychecks.

I’ve only learned the ache of hatred, the pull of regret.


The mission statement rattles my spine,

Closes my throat, choked and inflamed:

“Make humanity irrelevant.”

I tap the keys.

They tell me I’m writing.


I caught my breath by the river,

Sobbing into its whisper,

Wanting nothing more than anything else.

A silver car with Idaho plates, its hazards flashing, clicking,

Waits in judgment, hauls me to the factory.


A man with the roaring voice of water

Came to town and spoke my language.

He lives with the river,

Beyond the factory’s antiseptic grasp.

He knows what writing is.


He saw the car with Idaho plates.

He ran through the mud

Where tires lose grip and engines stall.

Yank me out of my skyscraper cubicle.