Joshua Marie Wilkinson
Data retrieved from:
The wish of course is for the intelligence to have meaning. For it to take the form of an elaborate, vigorous dance. A song, even, where through the act of putting the stylus onto the record there is more than just the simple rotation of the disc. Something beyond the crackling of dust through the ear of the needle.

I’m, you say, after the felt world. Some elusive feeling. Some resonating avalanche of meaning in the received experience of memory.

Oh, that sounds pretty nice. But you don’t know what the intelligence is, do you?

The intelligence mines, harvests, and bends. Then it reforms to gather anew.

Am I, you might think to ask, its silage?

Yes, of course.

But your thoughts—however fragmented, oblique, lurid—you can go ahead and hold onto those.

Something like a pattern emerges, in effect, and that the contours of this pattern can be felt. Would that these patterns could be measured, recorded, transcribed, even. Or that a resonance is possible through—like a lapping fire throwing sparks against the night sky out on the beach far from any harbor.

A Caspian Tern falls out of the wind and hits the surface of the water in search of fish in search of fish. My son in his pajamas crawls after a cowbird over the beach sand, curious, watching, trying—it would seem—to make contact.

The intelligence folds and adjusts accordingly. Makes contact and finds a way through us. Then is perhaps reformed, regathered—altered by us. Not indifferent to us, but nor is it a sword fern or vole.

The molecules of kelp in the air also move around us as we walk up and down the shoreline in search of whales and stones.

Finally, the man at the lighthouse points to the mouth of a stream and says that a family of river otters is there. The intelligence is having trouble keeping up with their machinations.

Night falls. The child is hungry. The stars keen on their axes. The wind scrapes against a far boat, lifts an osprey up over the breakers, and then ripples the shoals.

Foam. Slag. Sea grass. Flotsam and detritus.

There’s nothing in the intelligence to nourish us, yet we keep bringing the story to this tool.
The better to see you with. The better to clock you with. The better to—
Each moon invites its own dilemmas from the fact of its dull spinning. Its gravity and force. The hard rust and opacity of its so-called materials.

Here is another story: there is a coyote in my neighborhood who takes to the meadow by broad daylight to shriek out and cry. The sound is doleful, but not plaintive. The animal perhaps lost something, is perhaps missed. She’s been extricated or calved off from the others like the face of a glacier.

The questions live in the body. The membrane’s ineluctable plasticity. And yet the human—humiliations, jealousies, pettiness, earthly needs, daily privations—persists, with shadows intact.

What does the intelligence say to the shadow?

That there is light within it? Or not?
Each stone a story, each story a portal, each portal a link to another doorway we might come staggering through. Something like a song at the threshold of becoming. Mired in soft applications, ruminant glow, distracted intelligence, the surrender of memory to the machines who keep them.

You’ve been gone a good long while and now you think you’re back?

You thought, she said last night, that I wouldn’t notice you’ve returned?

Look at your face, lit with the deflected light from your screen powering down.
What you’ve seen emerges from the tentacular visions, the morass of the inner operations updating ceaseless to serve and remake you. Score you. Blind, bind, and catalyze you.

But you’re stymied when I need you hold me?
Is that it, the outsourcing of affection?
Of desire. Or something like consummation.

And yet, I think, what if it doesn’t?

What if there’s no beauty in it?

What if what you’ve discovered in the act of looking is just a mechanical process? Just the blinding river of electricity making its dull way through the ecologies of our spirit?

What if we’ve brought fluorescent light to the wilds of the dark planet?

We are formed through the aspects of memory. We are formed, in some ways, through the act of looking and being stained with feelings received.

Recipient, I call you. Penitent. Blathering. Go on home, motherfucker. You’re alone anyhow.

Suffer yourself badly, she says. The grief will not abate?
May I go ahead and distract myself now though?
Benumbed is not bewitched. More like hypnotized into light.

You may begin again with clear song.
Stand here, she says.
Stop talking. Now, shut your eyes.
It’s time, instead, to find out what’s inside you.
But I—
Shut up. I said, shut your eyes.
You may not light what emerges.
Let me rephrase that. You may not permit the exposure of what you nonetheless reveal to us.
It’s time to shut off the light and disrobe.
The room should be cold.
We need to collect the rest of you for the intelligence.
We need to see you through to what I liken to an emptying out.
Enervating, yes.
Depleting, yes, of course.
You’re thinking: But will this sting?
Oh, it will sting a great deal, indeed.
You’re thinking, perhaps: Will I hold onto any of this or will I lose touch in the process?
Yes, what you grasp will be lost.
What you say will evaporate, of course, too.
What you hear will dissolve.
And what you touch will fade.
Can’t any of this, you’re thinking, be properly transcribed?
Of course it can, but the differences will—in effect—be deformed to illegibility.
And those discrepancies will outlive you.
And your name—I apologize for saying it this way—will haunt nobody’s lips.
As such you’ll know that you’ve passed from this living.
Was it, you’re thinking, a dream?
It was not a dream. But:
It is time to wake up and see what we’ve made of you.
That’s right. It looks like nothing.
Now you’re crying, but I don’t know what you’re thinking.
I suppose you might be thinking that this has gone wildly wrong.
That there was supposed to be music.
There was supposed to be a story. And laughter. A hot meal, even. And stars.
But there’s nothing. The intelligence has de-sexed and filleted you.
Unmoored and blanched and stunned you awake. Adumbrated and so confounded you.
The constellations drain out.
The wind rattles the ragged flags.
You hold the key, and the key is cold.
But that key you hold unlocks nothing.


About the Author

Born and raised in Seattle, Joshua Marie Wilkinson is the author of several books of poetry as well as Trouble Finds You, a novel due out next year. His writing has appeared in Tin House, Pen America, Poetry, The Believer, and in more than a dozen anthologies. He's taught in MFA programs in Chicago and Tucson, and abroad in Italy, Slovakia, and Turkey. In 2019 he was the Writer-in-Residence at Rhodes University in South Africa. He lives in Seattle with the writer Lisa Wells and their son Jude. Currently, he teaches at Hugo House and is training to become a psychotherapist.


About the Data

This data was produced by a SONOS sound system. To get the data, the participant had to email the company to make a data request, which was handled in part by members of SONOS' legal team. The lead time to receive the data was approximately one month and was shared in a password protected spreadsheet. The document contained all sorts of metadata such as the device made and the duration of use but no artist or song name was shared.

Writing Prompt

In this story, we prompted the writer with some writings from sociologist Deborah Lupton who describes data as part of an assemblage with humans and spaces. We invited the writer to imagine data alongside the bodies and domestic spaces that constitute it. Through meshes and assemblages, data and people not only co-habit but also change over time and co-evolve.


Sonos Speaker

This graph represents the usage of Sonos services in this houses from July 14th to August 13th 2021. This data was used by the writer to inspire this story.



The data is less connected to anything like a narrative or anything like the formal attributes of a story for me and more connected to this sort of opaque, inchoate sensibility.


– A quote on process
Joshua Marie Wilkinson