Selections from “Conversations Between Poetry and Physics,” #1

The Savage Garden       

… omniparens eadem rerum commune sepulcrum,
ergo terra tibi libatur et aucta rescrescit. …
adsidue quoniam fluere omnia constat.

… the mother of everything [earth is] also the common grave of everything, so you see the earth diminished but also increased and growing anew. …
all things in constant flow.

Lucretius, De rerum natura

Phlogiston used to be the “name” for heat:
Phlogiston in the tree caught fire and burned.
Saturated with phlogiston Gaia
Again, and still, was a passive receptacle,
A container of notions and their properties,
Hot, cold, wet, dry — elements men could feel
And write poems about, mirabile dictu.

But Gaia is no more a box than space-time is
(Which also inspires poems, “wonderful to tell”).

Gaia is energy in the moment
Of matter that does not contain but cycles it
In vibrations that assume temporary shape:
Is from DoesIs no more, but no less, than As.

Energy appears as a tree, fire also
Its potential since the tree’s vibration
Connects carbon and oxygen: excite
The oxygen and the carbon burns —
The two can do a tree, they can do a fire.

Pardon some exposition. The word “carbon”
Derives from a root meaning to “burn”: *ker-.
What’s history got to do with it? you may ask.
I respond, everything, but I must wait
Until another time to write that poem
Since science, history, and poetry
Haven’t yet agreed on where they concur.

For now, they do agree — evidence abounds —
Relationships matter: they “are” all that matters
Perturb the relationship, the tree turns to fire.
Just as simple as that, no phlogiston,
Just oxidation in the tree’s molecules,
Carbon ceding electrons to oxygen.

Imagine a creature slowly bipedal
Down from the trees across the savannah
Searching the quickest way to fruit or flesh.
Any short-cut to sugars seems worth the risk
Since life on Gaia must burn sugars
(A matter of carbon again: carbohydrates),
Even if, in that short-cut, its own sugars
Become nutrients for another predator,
Lions, say, or anopheles mosquitoes
Which set prey afire with malaria.

Is “is” the short-cut men take to being,
To assert things have names, and this is that.
No. This “is” not a “window.” Once it “was”
“The eye of the wind” (vindr auga) — speaking
Improperly, that is (the wind has no eyes);
But this impropriety surprises insight
So true and beautiful, so liberating,
History has preserved it, in the shortest
Of short-cuts, a metaphor, which lets us
Pretend we have a way, a name, to being,
A window on reality, so to speak.

But a short-cut makes a cut, a division.
As with any cut, parts remain left over
(Even as windows cannot show everything).
And what of these parts? Our senses tell us
They do not matter. Listen to our language.
They may not matter to the hungry biped,
But that does not mean they do not matter.
Gaia’s creatures must kill to eat and breed,
Matter consuming matter, without stop.

Matter matters everywhere we harbor;
Wherever we build or raze to the ground,
The carnivore devours the herbivore,
The omnivore, everything … everything.
Short-cuts, yes, but escape, no. Eat and be eaten.

To make Gaia home, this savage garden,
This luscious paradise where all of us die,
Mankind everywhere made a god of IS
(“I am that I am,” one tribe expressed it)
To endow them with the right names and stories
To intercede with being against becoming,
Freeing Gaia from the garden of change,
Refusing to admit that this too “is” change.

Nothing “is” its name. Waves of forces, forces
We hardly dare imagine (we repress them,
Just because we have seen them — Hiroshima
And Bikini Atoll) power through space-time,
And we are desperate to ignore them,
Although no repression is that potent
Since we ourselves are made of the same waves.
We have christened these waves, their names to being
Both revelation and apocalypse …
We believe we “are” who we think we “are.”

We must abandon names that pretend to being.
They can only deceive and betray us,
Versions of phlogiston we dare not trust.
By its name we know nothing, only its place
In the little black book of our affairs
By which we cheat and rob each other blind,
As if I am that I am were my thing,
Without asking what need of me I am has.
We must learn a new lexicon and soon …
The savage garden is changing again,
And it has no use for us, much less phlogiston.
We will disappear as the dinosaurs did,
And Gaia once more will mix her elements
In violent beauty we might have known.
adsidue quoniam fluere omnia constat.


DOXOLOGY: Lo, How the Powers Have Hated the Murdered Children


Everything ancient men dreamed of we can now do,
Or, almost — living forever … soon enough
(Clones for organs, their consciousness suppressed).
But notice the cost our success has exacted.
Old schools moralized, greed’s the root of all evil,
Doctrine defunct throughout our history,
Never more so than now when greed is our creed.
But that’s just toothless bitching, as everyone knows.
What’s really mortal is moralizing itself,
Which has fallen so far out of fashion
That people prefer twits a’ tweeting trumped-up rants
Since they mean no one cares what you are doing
And you can hide in plain sight of frothing hatred
As you carefully plan to kill your neighbor
In the name of this or that or the other god —
Any one will do if she/he/it fattens your larder
And lets you lord it over your killingdom.
Murder will out, a poet once wrote,
But not in our world where murder’s the law
And the custom of the land to be honored
By all, the young and the aged, female and male,
In churches, schools, clubs, and arenas, wherever
Blood may run and brains may splatter and bones splinter,
As it was in the beginning, is now,
And ever shall be. Amen. Amen. Amen.

Sonnet: Knowledge of the Precipice, a Fable for Our Time


We start the journey and think nothing of how long.
We know where we’re going. We studied the map.
We reckoned on troubles, promised to be strong,
We agreed that complaining is itself mishap.

But we didn’t count on the whorls of light
Which our science doesn’t yet understand,
That never by force can we make it go right
Since the way curves also on the other hand

And destinies ebb faster than we think.
You look down suddenly, it’s the edge —
Some way across? No way back. On the brink
You discover the gravity of knowledge:

You know that alone you must bind up the fear
That beggars your mind as the fact looms near.

Sonnet: Against Pseudodoxy

What you don’t know you know you need to know.
Those who laugh and call it gibberish miss the mark.
They assume your language is nothing but show
When it’s your anguish trying to free your heart

From the barbs and hooks of the grinning tyrant
Extorting life from you with gibberish for real:
“Worship my god and believe in my cant …
You’ll go to heaven — it’s a helluva deal!”

Eons ago on boiling ocean floors
From minerals and chemicals life evolved
And rose to complexity which even now soars
To seek answers to questions only solved

Refusing pseudodoxy to cooperate
Before what we don’t know we know we know too late.

Neuroandum #5

Brain Hemispheres

When you look at your body what do you see?
You see two of everything everywhere.
Wherever it could nature deposited two.
Philosophy has long been mistaken:
One is nothing unless divided — think two.

Next, think brain. Just take a minute or two.
Like Gaia herself, two conjoining hemispheres
Cooperate in opera no one composes
Other than Nature, impatient of one
In all she does — she feels two are sweeter.

The work is divided, as much work should be,
So a work of love flourish from a love of work
Our bodies evolved to perform at will
If will and body only embrace
Like lovers who give not merely receive.

Sharing and shearing the same parent share
(Even as my line shears the caesura’s share),
And let our pride swell as much as it will,
Like a stroke crippling the brain, it can only end
In a solitary lesion’s emptiness.

Divided in two the brain is itself
And can begin to finish its life’s work,
Assembling the mind from neuronal charges
Distributed alike in all but, in each,
Reciprocal uniquely with time and space,

No two brains deprived of the law of two,
Which is difference for all, even for twins,
Who cannot be connected unless apart,
The mystery of belonging by longing to be
A part together together apart

Where separation empowers union —
As sexes couple to forget themselves
The better to remember the bodies they bear —
So hemispheres of cells billions in number
Chemically coordinate feeling and thought

Until mind emerges conscious of self,
Conscious, then, too, of the selves of others,
Each desiring the real of recognition
Which affirms you are apart but not alone,
Each of you bound alike in freedom’s thrall

To live and die responsible for yourself
Just because you are not alone, most of all
When you boil with envy, greed, and hatred,
For then you belong to the other, their thing,
Proving the power they have taken from you.

You must instead like your brain live divided
(Beware the snake oil of what you want to hear,
It will melt your mind), so your self will come
To challenge yourself by the glass of death:
What is worth having if it is not worth living?



Neuroandum #4


There are no substances in language, only differences.

Ferdinand de Saussure

Our bodies evolved in a web of things.
These things precede us and define us.

Every denial is a myth appropriate
To power only, to deny freedom to all.

Each must freely resign a freedom
To a sign that each can carry in joy and peace —

All else is tyranny imposing its will.
Power hates and fears any human accord

Responding to things that preceded us
With care and concern for the planet’s life,

Without which our life is just another
Species vanishing in habitat loss,

Such islands as remain savaged by greed
In frenzies of murdering evolving bodies —

Remember: the thermonuclear device
Can vaporize life all over the planet.

The mind that devised that hideous end
Alone can cure the horror conceived.

It has to admit the brain its mother
(MATERpia, arachnoid, and dura)

Swathing the cortical folds with her quilts,
So that it can soar to the stars and back.

But the mind must come back — this is the call
It is death to refuse, the duty to stand

Before the real and acknowledge its name,
Which is not your own nor ever will be,

But another’s, who is different from you,
Yet claims from you what you want from all:

Recognition of the need to love yourself
In a life you didn’t choose but die in anyway.

Neuroandum #3



Click here to read the legend for the diagram of the synapse above


For Juliet’s sake, for her sake, rise and stand;
Why should you fall into so deep an O?

Romeo & Juliet 3.3.90-1

The gift of gap is little understood.
Commonly people ridicule science
That corroborates life’s dependence on clefts.

But try to get through a day without filling
Or emptying holes — do a few of these
You’ll soon be in sorry shape … and stink;

A few more and you’ll also likely die.
Your pride may not like it but you’re nothing
Without the cavities that wound your body.

Of these the synapse is the most enlightening
(Coming in second is Juliet’s O
Although Nurse Capulet would disagree);

The synapse is the gap that measures “is,”
The “copula” we call it, the verb “to be,”
Which gives meaning to mammals copulating,

Though, like most animals, we hardly care
When the rut is upon us and estrus constant
In our female hominid, “for better or worse” —

Why should you fall into so deep an O?
Indeed. The poet asks the salient question
For which even the synapse has no answer

Other than instinct utterly mindless.
But the brain, enormous in size and energy,
Can imagine a life beyond the rut. Listen.

In that 200-micron(μm) gift of gap
Connections multiply into trillions —
Pay attention, please: trillions, as in stars.

Earth-evolved chemicals flow across the gaps
Transmitting charges over those trillions,
The charges of life that fire into mind,

Where they precipitate the being of thought
And, so, the thought of being, which is freedom,
Born in the instant the brain knows its mind

And ineradicable in our species
Regardless of color, culture, or sex —
Abolish freedom, abolish it all.

The brain proposes the mind to itself
To negotiate the gaps nature cleaves
In tissues that burn to cleave together

In a body of parts that must be apart
To be a part of the animal that imparts
The play of love that tyranny hates

Since in its language, also full of holes,
It exposes the plague on all our houses —
Why should we fail in so deep an O?

Neuroandum #1

No one can hear the awakening voice
As it calls to the silence for recognition.
Only time will tell if the summons is answered
And the mind emerges stronger for it.
The depths are hollow, but walls of energy
Resound with music terrifyingly sweet,
As if death were a portal and not the end,
A fissure through which worlds unimagined
Beckon to pleasure unendurable
By any life comprehensible to us,
A paradise our fancies could never invent,
No gods of ours on the corners picking fights.
Down, down plummet the walls, ionic webs
And exotic slime coating the surface,
Composing the music in bursts of novelty
Faster than the changes of nightmare faces
Mutating to challenge sanity’s drama,
Provoking the voice to pitches unheard
But never inaudible if it survives
The ever accelerating upward down,
Curious gravity of songs so new
They alter the past the moment they’re heard
And deliver to the present now, at last,
A present feeling can be grateful for
And celebrate the enfranchisements of,
If the voice remind it how much it costs
To descend into flesh in search of thought
Flesh can engender but never survive
Since the mind is a fiction the brain discharges
To defend itself against its finitude.