Tracy K. Smith (b. 1972) rose to poetic fame with her book Life on Mars. She is a well-known contemporary American poet and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Her new book Wade in Water appears in April 2018. In June 2017, Smith was named U.S. poet laureate. She teaches creative writing at Princeton University. This poem is taken from Life on Mars:
Sci-FiThere will be no edges, but curves.Clean lines pointing only forward.History, with its hard spine & dog-earedCorners, will be replaced with nuance,Just like the dinosaurs gave wayTo mounds and mounds of ice.Women will still be women, butThe distinction will be empty. Sex,Having outlived every threat, will gratifyOnly the mind, which is where it will exist.For kicks, we’ll dance for ourselvesBefore mirrors studded with golden bulbs.The oldest among us will recognize that glow—But the word sun will have been re-assignedTo the Standard Uranium-Neutralizing deviceFound in households and nursing homes.And yes, we’ll live to be much older, thanksTo popular consensus. Weightless, unhinged,Eons from even our own moon, we’ll driftIn the haze of space, which will be, onceAnd for all, scrutable and safe.
The opening lines sketch a spacy image about lines that only point forward (and must be somehow be circular). Edgy books with spines and organization are replaced with ever-presence that is called nuance. In the future, you cannot speak about a single aspect without the presence of everything else.
The images of sexless sex and partnerless dancing are decisively dystopian. We are probably on some kind of spaceship (the red Planet Mars, looking at the title of the book), the very word ‘sun’ means something else now – ultimate step in overthrowing the anthropocentrical worldview. The images of detachment are strong, weightless, unhinged drifting in the haze of space (remember George Clooney in Gravity?) I picture this drifting and wonder what ‘scrutable’ means. My dictionary only mentions inscrutable, or mysterious. The poet means that every phenomenon of nature has been exhaustively understood. Even our age has become a matter of concensus.
Ultimate safety. That also explains why there is no real sex.