Presented by Jen Michalski, for PANK. For a description of this guest series, click here.
~by Liz Hazen
You’d think disorder, anarchy, but chaotic
systems twist into something like control:
patterns algorithmic, self-replicating,
infinite. All it takes for things to turn
is a blip, a shift minute as the flutter of wings,
the opening of a door, a telephone
unanswered, the clap of voices shouting Wait!
My rage comes out of nowhere— the glass explodes
when it hits the wall, as physics says it must,
but who knew I was capable of this?
I wake each day to an alarm. Each night
I watch the neon time tick by. A person
can disappear from this equation, swift
as the click of a pawnshop trigger. The effect
is vast as tectonic shifts, mountains spewing
ash clouds, a newborn’s blue-faced breath, but how
can we isolate the cause of his departure?
Chaos gives us endless bifurcations,
the path of time from next to next, no chance
of turning back. Instabilities overwhelm
the earth: addiction, population growth,
disease, storms, earthquakes, infidelities,
and a simple pendulum with its routine
tick-tock, tick-tock. Even this sorry heart,
aperiodic after all, pounds wildly
at entrances, exits, the memory of his touch,
try as it will to keep a steady beat.
Frog dissection teaches connectivity:
the eyes, blank globes, dangle nerves and muscles;
the heart, now hard as an eraser, once
pumped blood; but a shaky hand and scalpel don’t
define division. Much less is required
to take a thing apart. My body, too,
divides itself, a measure to protect.
The inside is my secret, the outside
a lovely myth. I reach up, but nothing holds;
there is no leverage in the sky. The process
by which we come to understand our place
is lonely work. Like the specimen, incised,
pinned open, we watched ourselves undone. I made
the first cut, clamped down on your lungs, insisted,
Take a breath. I saw that you were falling,
feared the worst, but the earth caught you, held you
sound, even as it spun, reconfiguring
itself, losing ground each day, its former
state displayed on maps covering the walls
that once held us together. How we dreamt
of travel, our precious world spread flat, tacked
in place, and always under our control.
Response to force defines the mass of things:
a door defies a shoulder’s thrust; a floor
fractures a dropped glass; fingertips submit
to paring knives; and all around you bodies
collapse like compact stars. Radiance defines
location, texture, shape: fleck of ash;
bone; sinew; grain of pine; the ligature
of meadow grass; the trajectory of stars—
experts agree, whole galaxies are moving
in reverse, redshifting toward lower frequencies.
Why should this surprise you? Taillights glow
like red dwarf stars on the highway out of town;
anonymous rooms conceal dark matter. Someone
withdraws into a vacuum, breathes the variegated
absences, the listless dawn. He is there,
propped on the edge of a rented bed. All systems
tend toward disorder, but look at his shoes,
regimented beside the locked door. You want
to show him something, but he draws the blinds,
angles them down. When he is gone, you will cling
to science: the emergent properties
of bad weather, quantum mechanics, black holes:
the promise that what you cannot see still lies,
waiting, somewhere just beyond your grasp.
Nothing is wasted here: carcass of whale
feeds whole systems for decades; nothing is left
to rot: rattail fish and sleeper sharks tear
into the flesh; hagfish burrow deep,
consuming from within; mollusks lick clean
the bones; snails leach the mud. So scarce is food,
some creatures root themselves in sediment,
wait with open mouths to catch dead particles
that fall like snow. So scarce is light, their eyes
grow large with longing; some become invisible;
some bioluminesce, their organs throbbing
blue and green. For millions of years they have skulked
the abyssal plain, motherless and hungry.
Miles above, ships sail. My son points from the beach,
naming them all: container ship, yacht, trawler.
With pail and shovel he crouches, collecting
sand crabs and sea shells. Life spills over edges:
ocean into sand, sand into ocean,
this splashing, oblivious existence.
Now he gathers seaweed, bandaging himself
with the slippery strips. Now he shakes himself free,
runs along the shoreline, shouting at gulls.
Now he calls to me, pulls me away from questions
of open systems, delicate ecologies,
impossible depths, the mystery of adaptation:
life existing without language or light.
Elizabeth Hazen is a poet and essayist whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in Best American Poetry 2013, The Normal School, Southwest Review, The Threepenny Review, and other journals. She teaches English at Calvert School in Baltimore, Maryland.