The Turing Paradox, 1954

The memorial to Alan Turing, Manchester.
Father’s pension the afterlife of Empire, threadbare
In Brittany half the year, dodging
English tax
For families like ours, edging Upper Middle, posturing
But broke, appearance is all— accents and schools, no
Exceptions for the shy, for whim
And consequence of names
Without pedigree, my books
All borrowed, my brother’s plea to Father— For God’s sake
Don’t send him to Marlborough, it will be the end of him
My ink-smudge manners no place among scions
Of the noble shires, instead a lesser school
In Dorset, cold showers, colder looks— and more suited
To inverse ratios than games
Of ham-hock knocks and clouts, I daydreamed
Numbers and their shadows, at night
Trapping stars in lenses, the path of eons
Plotted in my proofs, each insight
A flower unfolding in imagined time
The Master’s letter home— Alan’s ability
Singular but erratic, a hedgehog snuffling grubs
Through mouldy leaves
The stars are moving— a child knows this
And makes no mention, assuming all
Is known to others too, the way we engineer
The altars of distraction to mirror
Social graces, puzzles
Infatuations— my boy-crush on Christopher, then
His Mother’s letter in the holidays
That he was dead, his Double First of frailty and TB
All was here, then gone, all I loved reset
To zero from those wellspring years, the longings
With me yet

Cambridge, then— a deep breath into King’s
And years of Jabberwocky calculus, symbols
Knocking on each other’s doors— a solitary mind, a marathon
Or the boating lake, the physical entente
Of senses through the Looking Glass, clouds
Decrypted, lovers, a summer
Cycling through Germany, the lindens waving
Bright as flags
On every good citizen, armbands with the crooked cross
In Göttingen, swastikas draped the streets, Heil Hitler
A greeting common as a penny loaf, my pilgrimage
The lecture halls, the mathematicians there— Jews, all, soon
Exiled, mad or dead, my letter of introduction
Ashes of the times, Europe now
Whistling a different tune
In the end
A Cambridge Fellowship, the stipend
Spent on lodgings, cake and tea
Then Tourist Class on Cunard
To the New World, its cash breaking hard
Across von Neumann, Einstein, me
Of Americans, my complaints— no idea of baths
In the ordinary sense, or the temperature
Of rooms correctly set, and lastly their appending
Of Aha to my logical remarks
Two years at Princeton, for the grease
Wrung relatively from Jason’s Fleece


My Cambridge lectureship a chilly homecoming
Colleagues scoffed at notions of mathematics
Geared and wired, of group theory trumped
By cipher rotors, then Poland fell— Blitzkrieg tanks indifferent
To the flux of n-dimensions
I met a man who was not there, who said we
Never met, my signature enough for Bletchley
And the subterfuge of codes— permutations
Feeding on the state of nations
Enigma shimmered in the shadows, Nazi machine memory
Wily, remote
Its letters lurked in guises of themselves, a counterfeit
For wolf packs stalking convoy lanes, the apparatus
Raw-knuckled, a feint of strategy and guile
We dogged the intercepts, finding
After all the fuss, the weak link of the Übermensch
Was chatter, indifferent protocols, transmissions
Slack as rag— lonely boys in hillside posts
Homesick for their girls, test-tapping boredom
Where armies waited for the push, make-do
Interludes of repetitive roulette
Now in our gift
Before they woke, their own dreams ours for taking
The coupling struck deeper chords— our allies
Nervous of our knack, as atoms split
And cities burned, whispered as the wind whispers
That all the secrets bled, no matter
The machine, no border sacrosanct, no gulag grave, now
The world was new, and brave
I met a man who was not there, who
Reminded me we never met, who said
His friends required assurances, my penchant
For lithe encounters ripe for blackmail— agents, intent
On algorithmic hacks, a brief within a brief
Undermining patriotic totems
Looking back to see who followed
I always saw myself— fear and desire
A shadow shared
In hindsight, that remedy of time, the way
Imaginary numbers shoal upon the world, my war
Ended as begun— the Boolean trope of cold huts
For a sanctioned few, then
By and by, ten thousand typists and a dog
A medal, later, for the maze of Bletchley years, the fact
Hush-hush— the Official Secrets Act ensured
The frisson of my calculations stewed
In Whitehall’s half-life underworld, and nothing now from King’s
My future at forty— the Manchester years
Modest, my ‘thinking engine’ prototype an extension
Of myself as oddball Prof in mismatched socks
Jotting equations instructive
For a leafy brew
Or radioisotope decay in rocks
But how shall one live, what shall one do

The stars are moving— a child knows this, no
Mention made of compromise, sidereal
Or otherwise that night, a simple kiss, a touch or brief embrace
Not love, perhaps, yet
In that moment not alone, and no regret
The streetlight fixed the silhouettes
Reported to the constable— Something funny there
The neighbour said— funny-odd, she meant
Oh, how we laughed and laughed and laughed, to realise
Persuasion cannot remedy the pulse— alone
I was anyone’s

In view of services — the OBE, the Royal Fellowship, the court
Expressed a leniency, a nod to hidden worlds
And briefings between ghosts— for me, no
Prison cell remote from Foreign Office records
Instead, another signature, this time for castration
My private joke— I knew the chain
Of chemicals by rote
So little time for love, and yet without change
How shall we know we are alive, the tics
Beyond mathematics
As subtle proof the world turns still

A year, another— I am myself no longer, nor recognised
The wheel of fortune stalls outside my door, a function
Simple as schoolboy Petri dish and flame, a plate
Of butter beans and plums metabolised
Beyond Security and State
The taste at first so sweet, then memory
As in the old play, at the closing scene
The plot unspools like integers of pi
Where poison decides the realm, and players
Strike poses by paper-mâché walls— a stitch
Of nervous cough from stagehands flexing
Ropes to curtain-fall
The scent of cyanide, whispered nothings
And the sly aside, pinning our chemistry to what
Was never meant to be, as footlights fade
By painted trees, the cudgel prompt—

Bringing off the bodies

Estill Pollock

If you have any thoughts on this poem, Estill Pollock would be pleased to hear them.