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The B-Sides of the Golden Records, Track Two: “Sounds of Human Labor”

By Sumita Chakraborty

We may try to change the shape of your body, or the color of your skin, or the kinds of sounds that your mouths make, to match how we think you should be.

You will find this process especially difficult to bear because we have been trying to picture you for so long. We have so many movies and TV shows and books about you, and we will be very angry if you don’t match what all of them have imagined.

(A trick: we’ll let you get away with it if you look almost like what we imagined.)

Some of us call others of us by the word we’ve invented for you, and in that way, many of us do believe in you.

By the time you receive this, much of what is on it will have long been dead.

This is a process that’s been going on for some time.

For example, we have included some songs that used to be played on harpsichords, but we don’t have many of those anymore, so we have given you versions that have been played on a modern piano.

They are almost the same.

We have also sent you a picture of something beautiful and alive called the Great Barrier Reef. You wouldn’t believe how many colors it has.

In time, most of it will turn into skeletons. Perhaps a part of it will recover. If it does, we will look at that part only, and imagine that it is all almost the same.

We work, very hard, to imagine that things are almost the same.


NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My B-Sides series is based on NASA’s Golden Records. NASA’s records were sent to space on the 1977 Voyager launches and were intended as a message-in-a-bottle to extraterrestrials to introduce them to human beings. For a variety of reasons—including a prohibition against explicit content, fears of the record being taken as a sign of aggression, legal and financial restrictions, and the myriad other reasons that one might surmise that a small, limited, insular committee of humans would be rather selective about how they chose to portray humanity—the Golden Records excluded a great deal regarding Earth and its inhabitants. My series inhabits those elisions while indirectly exploring the pleasures and tyrannies of the so-called “royal we." 




Listen as Sumita Chakraborty reads "The B-Sides of the Golden Records, Track Two: “Sounds of Human Labor".

Added: Tuesday, November 29, 2022  /  Poem used with permission.
Sumita Chakraborty
Photo by: Ashley Chupp

Sumita Chakraborty is the author of the poetry collection Arrow (Alice James Books/Carcanet Press, 2020). She is also a scholar currently working on a book project titled Grave Dangers: Poetics and the Ethics of Death in the Anthropocene, which is under an advance contract with the University of Minnesota Press. Her poems, essays, and articles have appeared widely in such venues as American Poetry Review, Poetry, the Best American Poems series, The Offing, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of fellowships and honors from the Poetry Foundation, the Forward Arts Foundation, and Kundiman, and she is currently Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC. 


Image Description: Sumita Chakraborty has long black hair and is wearing glasses and a dark blue sweater. She is standing outside against a blue wall and smiling with her face turned to the side. 

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