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.


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