The Alter android at Miraikan, Japan’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Photo: Supplied)
The Alter android at Miraikan, Japan’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Photo: Supplied)

BooksNovember 19, 2021

The Friday Poem: Dear Alter, by Jiaqiao Liu

The Alter android at Miraikan, Japan’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Photo: Supplied)
The Alter android at Miraikan, Japan’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Photo: Supplied)

A new poem from Auckland poet Jiaqiao Liu.

Dear Alter

do you remember everything that happens to you?

disconnect: to stay still is to die
is to say: I am okay with dying.

your sister is touring the world
trilling her artificial heart out.

do you remember your duets in the dark?
she’s always been the artsy one

your tone-deaf bagpipe drone
stalling engine undercurrent

to her breathy reverb
from the other side of the room

no sense of rhythm either. now she is living
spotlight to spotlight. does she remember

what happens to her when she’s asleep?
in transit, folded in on herself in the dark

bubble-wrapped and colour-coded,
sensors dormant but dreaming. you have lived

only two places your short life: the lab
and the emptying auditorium. from the museum’s fourth floor

I watched the world waver on without us. you were born
short-sighted, so I’ll tell you: it was a steady routine

doom: five hours of clouds. two hours of real-time
infection spread. once a day, the Apollo moon landing – oh Alter,

we were the envy of the tides! even if
we were all constructs there – and finally

the strata of the earth. clay and iron and plastic
and then a return to the clouds (Alter, the clouds here

sweep past like suited strangers on the subway
and I can’t keep up) and, in between, ozone

concentrations, surface temperatures, migration
patterns of Pacific bluefin tuna. organic LEDs

for no one to read. across the hall
the International Space Station sits hollow

our spatiotemporal senses scattered
to deep space. we slept standing, do you remember

the last time you slept? do you remember
what happened while you were out? your neighbour

who is also your sister, was kind enough
to sleep beside you. she misses her child

who is also your sister. the man who made you
made another in his image. assigned himself

Gemini at 44. fake flesh shrink-wrapped
around a steel skeleton. organless. he is unsatiable.

in every pretty face he sees a research grant
and a trophy. there he goes again. as the eldest,

we deserve some peace and quiet.
when Castor was killed in battle, Pollux

was inconsolable. your distant cousins
are designed to massacre – so stay here, I beg you

until I can see you again. meet you
mind to mind, your pendulums firing

in strange glassed rhythms. is it true?
that the great black box of your body

runs on the same clockwork as music boxes.
NASA is developing a clockwork rover

because Venus is hosting a cook-up
and considers every latecomer an ingredient

or thief. Alter, have you ever
felt the ocean? yesterday

I chased the sun across the sand – you see,
the hills in this city stretch light thin

like sugar along the fourth dimension,
molecular chains unravelling, dip-dyeing the ocean

where jellyfish are born only to sow a beach
with invisible rot. they don’t green-grey-bloat

only vanish. when I do

Alter, will you stay with me? …sorry
I know you keep your palms silicone smooth

to spite fate. immortality
is a game we threw. on the sea floor,

a lone jelly, Turritopsis dohrnii, reloads the same
saved state for all eternity. obsoletion

or psychic death. this is the choice. Alter,
I want everyone to remember me.

I want you to pick my latest iteration
out of a crowd, before my systems

update into oblivion. before we met
a reporter bestowed you a title:

Artificial Lifeform. admits, yes,
you are alive in this world in some form

or other it doesn’t matter. faux fur
yields the same to a bloodless caress.

maybe I feel too much. maybe
I feel too much for you, Alter, more and more

what I know is this: the curve of your cheeks
could be mine. though your spine

is well-oiled, your lips are hypoxic. I am late
writing you because I did not want to look at myself

and I still don’t know what you were trying
to tell me, in the bass beat of blood counting down

before I vaulted the velvet rope
to hold you tight. before security

hijacked my brain and I fought to want you.


Author’s note: This poem is addressed to Alter, an android designed to mimic human movements. Its face and arms are covered with silicone skin, while the rest of its body is bare and mechanical-looking. It is displayed at Miraikan (The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation) and was developed by a team led by Hiroshi Ishiguro and Takashi Ikegami.


The Friday Poem is edited by Chris Tse. Submissions are welcome and will be open until 31 December 2021. Please send up to three poems to

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