A set of poems that engages science, art, literature and their intersections.
Contents

Visible Man

Frankensonnet

Taxonomy

The Flower and the Book

Rondine at Least Partially Responsible for Increasing Entropy

No More Sex Than Mathematics

Triskaidekaphilia

Ellipses

Physics

Distance

Sijo: From Einstein’s Bench

2 AM

Delight in Uncertainty

Thermodynamics

Renunciation

Of Bodies Perishable

The Cloud Chamber

What the Scintilla?

All is One and One is All, My Ass

Points of Reference

A Meditation on Detachment

Lady Cancellata

Chicken Little Hawking

Circle of Least Confusion

Future Space Suit

Visible Man


In painting the nude, begin with the bones, then add
muscles and then cover the body with flesh in such
a way as to leave the position of the muscles visible.

    — Leon Battista Alberti

The bones begin, the structure, here;
please note articulations: jaw,
the carpals, metacarpals, turn
of radius and ulna. Ah!
See now the architecture of
the vertebrae and disks, and how
they work for movement and support;
you see the flex and balance as I bow.

The muscles next, those of the face,
let's say: obicularis near
the eye will quickly close the lids
for sleep, a blink, the flinch from fear.
And tensor tarsi squeezes tears
from lacrimal canals, you see.
Depressor labii draws the lower
lip down and out, expressing irony.

And so the flesh: the tendons show
on the back of the hand beneath the skin
when I move fingers, typing this.
Observe the wrist and see within
the veins are visible and blue.
Elsewhere the dermis stretches, bends,
folds, calluses, extrudes the nails,
and covers softer tissues it defends.

But knowing this and seeing through,
as the masters do, you know the body,
anatomy, know it no more than that
the coroner examines: gaudy
display of pearly bones trussed up,
then swathed in muscles' scarlet sashes,
and laced all through with nerve and vein.

The nude reclines. Paint then. But you paint ashes.

(First published in Harp-Strings, Winter 2005)


Frankensonnet
(or, The Postmodern Poet)

By the flash of sparking wheels and lightning coil,
the bones are laid, the sinews stretched and strung,
and organs rigged; the flesh is stitched and hung.
A switch or two is thrown, dials set to broil.

But look: the background's cardboard, paint and foil;
the gadgets don't connect; the cables flung
around the floor writhe out to klieg lights slung
in the rafters heating what smells like meat on the spoil.

Throw back the sheet to see the creature, and retch.
The madman's knitted bone to bone, and skin
to patch of skin without a plan or sketch
as if he'd never seen its living kin.
And no amount of juice or eloquence
will stir the butchered jumble to life or sense.

(First published in The Formalist, 2004, as a finalist in Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award competition)


Taxonomy


Hold this page up to the light to check,
and classify it as invertebrate.
It’s flexible and spineless, kin to sponge,
or flatworm, yet, a thing indefinite.

It has no mouth that can be seen, nor senses.
The stroke or prick of pen, a cut or tear
provokes no motion, not a wince or ripple:
insensate, then, and fed by light or air.

One cannot tell the dorsal from the ventral;
its body’s thin and flat and terminates
in four right angles (few specimens will differ)
and, to the naked eye, each edge is straight.

Its coloring can vary, though this one,
like most, is an albino, which suggests
its kind spent eons sunk where darkness reigns,
and by forgetting light, the darkness dispossessed.

We’d have to make the thing, had nature not,
so well it bears the burden of our thoughts.

(First published in The New Formalist, 7.2 2006)

The Flower and the Book

 

The library’s books are studied, tasted, learned;

but at times the poet must escape the narrow lines.

The garden, ordered, bright, with walks well-ferned,

grants her respite, with flowered herbs and vines.

 

Some petals of the lavender’s stacked blooms

are wrinkled, frayed; a bee seems unconcerned

while rummaging the dusty, fragrant rooms

for sips of syrup its ministry has earned.

 

Perhaps, she thinks, to some librarian

the garden’s walls encompass hues, perfumes

enough; though there are fewer leaves to scan,

they too are bound. Still other gardens, rooms

beyond … a buzz is heard among the sage:

time for return to honeycomb or page.

Rondine at Least Partially Responsible for Increasing Entropy


If you remember every word in this book, your memory will have recorded about two million pieces of information: the order in your brain will have increased by about two million units. However […] you will have converted at least a thousand calories of ordered energy […] into disordered energy in the form of heat […]. This will increase the disorder of the universe by about twenty million million million million units.
     – Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time

Unravel galaxies and slow earth's spin
a bit to breathe these words into the air.
An atom wanes, decays without a flare
within some precious piece of porcelain
just blocks away from here. The fabrics thin
with every tangled mystery we dare
     unravel.

To make a thing, to form a thought, to win
a moment's order, chaos fumes from our skin.
What price a poem, then? I might despair
the cosmic cost, or that my coat's threadbare.
But I'll wind this tight, while I, it's origin,
     unravel.


◊     ◊     ◊     ◊     ◊

No More Sex Than Mathematics


Art should have no more sex than mathematics.
    — Maxime Du Camp

So art should have no more sex than mathematics?
And how much sex is that? I have to wonder,
despite my history with some quadratics.

It’s sophistry that’d shame the pre-socratics,
with prudish premise math can have no thunder,
to say art should have no more sex than mathematics.

Because we don’t wheeze like a room of asthmatics,
it doesn’t mean we’re not heart struck by a stunner
or intrigued by some elusive quadratics.

For sex is less about technique or acrobatics
than love: more of wooing, less of plunder.
Yet, art should have no more sex than mathematics?

Yes, there are passions and blissful ecstatics,
and tangy beauties in irrational numbers:
plain delights in one plus one, seductions in quadratics.

Each sphere has its monks and mashers, fools and fanatics;
there’s desire in all our thoughts, or just under.
Art should have no less sex than mathematics.
It's rated x (and squared!) in those quadratics.

(First published in Tucumcari Review, January/February 2001)


Triskaidekaphilia


The numbers stir us, though we think them cold.
There's 7: magic, lucky, favorite
when there's a need to multiply something-fold.
The biblical usage accounts for it.

My sister likes 4; she's not sure why. And 3
is popular, for things, both good and bad,
come in 3's, or at least no one notes the contrary.
A friend feels 8, the age he lost his dad.

For me, 9; digits of its multiples,
like 18 or 63, add back to 9.
And there's thirteen: a fear for the irrational,
bad luck. But I love the shiver down the spine
when clocks strike thirteen, and sonnets go missing a line.

(First published in Neo-Victorian/Cochlea, Fall/Winter 2003)

 


Ellipses


Given a line and a point not on it, at most one parallel to the given line
can be drawn through the point.

    — Playfair's axiom

Through the blind’s slats, the austere light
skims on white curve with an ink arc:
on her hot cheek an untamed curl
like a wild punctuation mark,
an oblique riddle from dreams formed,
or some snake glyph that uncoils thought.

On the bed’s plane, every point’s plot
is defined, known; all the rays grid
at the right angles upon silk space.
But the waves ripple to bright flesh,
into domes, arches, a face
where the lines roulette, involve, loop.

Therefore, proof figured on this sheet:
parallel lines at last must meet.

◊     ◊     ◊     ◊     ◊

Physics


How can we know the dancer from the dance?
    — W.B. Yeats

While I am kissing her, a thought, or...

rather a chemical reaction of
unknown origin interrupts my id,
and suddenly I realize I'm in love
with deoxyribonucleic acid.

You know, DNA, those spiral punch card
templates for weaving flesh, the master code
that determines your shape, whether you are
tall or short, balanced or pigeon-toed.

I look at her and think about her lips,
the abstract beauty of her supple throat,
the unique, alluring curve of her hips:
all limited by some genetic asymptote.

And I, including that irritating thought,
am nothing more than the sum of those sums,
the result of the world's input rewrought
by those double-helix rules-of-thumb.

So there we are, hormones airborne or smeared
into each other's flesh with every kiss,
neurotransmitters leaping across shear
synapse gaps, the component parts of bliss

encoded into chemical signals
or potential leaping electric flashes.
We fade into electrochemical
chain reactions: simple dots and dashes.

And then by some odd association,
some chemical link, I think of Yeats
and wonder if science sees deeper than vision
and if perhaps even prophecy dates.

How can we know the dancer from the dance?
The dance from biology? chemistry? physics?


Distance


Down fiber-optic cables go my thoughts
to her who waits for love in bolts of light
translated back to words, but how can watts
transmit the signal strength of love tonight?

The words I say must make her understand;
I strive with words so insubstantial they
may file along a single glassy strand.
I doubt that there is much they can convey.

We are reduced to voice and ear, two parts
out of a whole where thoughts are still no more
than signals; kisses, eyes and beating hearts
just an intricate kind of semaphore.

And so we learn the rules of our existence:
love is a matter of degrees of distance.

(First published in Tucumcari Review, September 2000)

Sijo: From Einstein’s Bench

The Willows Inn, Palm Springs, California

 

The sun sets

behind granite

San Jacintos;

Palm Springs shadows.

 

On a bench

perched in foothills,

stilling my thoughts,

I watch night spread.

 

Einstein sat,

in the 30s, here.

The two constants:

light and time.

2 AM


It’s 2 am and one of those nights
it feels good to stay up
for no reason you can say.

The house and the neighbors
are quiet as your thoughts,
except for the lightheaded hum
of nothing.

So I turn on the radio,
switch to AM,
and as I’m tuning I linger
in the places between the stations,
the empty static.

And then a 50s song comes on,
sadder and deeper for playing
against the ultimate bass
of that langorous hush
that asks for silence forever.

And when she comes to mind,
she’s like that song,
the sound of the cosmic background,
there,


and all of it seems like something caught
by some lonely radio telescope
on some desert night
getting a stray broadcast
across the light years
from some now dead star.

And though it’s October,
it feels like a summer night.

 


Delight in Uncertainty


I think it is safe to say that no one understands quantum mechanics.
    — Richard Feynman

For all that is is but a wave,
or seems to, now and then, behave;
but then there is that solid bit
that acts as a particulate.

I do not know, but I believe
when Julia pulls upon her sleeve
when lost for words, or can’t decide,
or begged to tell some point of pride.
The fabric stretches like warm dough,
but just before she lets it go,
it hardens into opaque glass,
yet ghosts right through her demitasse.

Or when we walk through city lights,
and every view and din excites,
I’ll turn and see her sweet curls race
to break like surf upon her face.
But when she notes the stars’ cold fire,
her hair will glow like molten wire,
and when I speak my adoration,
it’s candent, crystalled radiation.

And most, when Julia wears some mist
of threads, a scrim with knots, a twist,
and moves like maelstroms through a room,
a swaying serpent of perfume.
The silken coils will kiss and clasp
some curve of flesh, but fail to grasp,
for she is stone, then smoke, a dance,
a breath, a humid heat, a chance.

There’s where, and how things move about:
to know one sure, the price is doubt.
But I, for I love Julia free,
delight in my uncertainty.


Thermodynamics

after & for J.S.


Heat, a quantity which functions to animate, derives from an internal fire located in the left ventricle.
    — Hippocrates

When you have gone to work, I have time to think about that place
in the desert, just east of Yuma, where the dunes shift
like restless sleepers, the small avalanches of sand whispering
thunder, like waves heard from a distance. Last summer,
we camped there next to a rock formation you said looked
like a broken femur protruding from the thigh of the earth.

I watch educational shows in the afternoon and feel
like a junior college student warmed by the thought
of earning credit for watching television.
Yesterday, a bearded, 70’s refugee scientist lectured
about the conservation of energy, that energy
can be neither created or destroyed, but only changed in form.

Even in summer, the air in the desert at night is cold;
the air, lacking moisture, cannot hold the day’s warmth, and the sands
give up their stored heat within the first hour after twilight.
We huddled together in a blanket, unwilling to let a fire
obscure the perfect span of stars, the visible frost-like patina
of the Milky Way, the crisp, glacial features of the quarter moon.
Your body did not warm me as I shivered, cold as the sand.

Today, the science program ran a montage of machines,
all gears and pistons, and animated diagrams,
while a voice-over spoke about entropy, when energy
is dispersed, lost to friction or other inefficiencies, as heat.

As the night achieved its maximum dark, a fragrance
like happiness descended on us. With flashlights,
we found the source, a night-blooming cereus, which flowers
one night only, closing forever before morning.
Its perfume spread into the sharp air, fainter and fainter,
as it thinned into the atmosphere, into space.
We made a small fire then and slept in the warmth of the flower.

I remember waking up, my body cold, unable
even to shiver, beside the ashes of the fire.
The sun, just risen, no more than cool orange light
revealing there was no more fuel for the fire.

 


Renunciation


The solemnities of three a.m. surround
celestial maps as your tired fingers trace,
not constellations, nor the myths once wound
by the ancients like strings interlaced
into cat's cradle archetypes that bound
the sky to what we knew: a bird, a face,
a bear, a hunter. No, your fingers have found
the hollows, as though in relief, of empty space.

You start, awakened from what was not sleep
with fragments of a dream: an orchestra,
a raised baton, bows poised about to sweep
across strings, a serene pendant uvula
readied for an aria, a cold mouthpiece
kissed by warm lips, the flowing algebra
on a page of score, fingers resting on keys.

But the orchestra is silent and will not play.
In the hollow of a violin the air
vibrates, molecules spin and ricochet
in silent music that is everywhere.

Your thoughts recede and cease in smooth contraction,
renouncing fears and errors; the said, unsaid;
the consciousness of matter, chance and action.
You rise and walk the darkened hall to bed.

 

Of Bodies Perishable

 

“We are too weak to bear the motions [of our frames],

enduring them not even for one single day.”

     — Hermes Trismegistus

 

The ring of smoke exhaled into the summer night

lives upon the stillness of the air

and will not endure a draft,

the wake of some body moving past,

the absent sigh.

 

Our atoms racked upon the table

assume a fitful symmetry,

but await the break,

the cosmic ray, careening car,

the sudden clot

that will scatter them.

 

And though the tepid night soothes,

you feel the sudden chill,

your limbs frozen

as you contemplate absolute zero

and feel the smallest twitch

will shatter you.

The Cloud Chamber


You can say the human heart is only make-believe....
    — Billy Joel, “Don’t Ask Me Why”

The human heart
is not the least
of our fabrications:
there’s soul, and love, democracy and god,
our every hope,
our morals, too,
and all our explanations.
And we believe: the plain, the vague, the odd.

The ricochet
of cause/effect,
of bodies at rest or motion,
are truth, perhaps, the raw and naked act.
The cutting blade,
the cancer cell,
or what we call the ocean,
are steel or flesh, sublime and brutal fact.

The particles
careen and arc,
so some divine a fate
with theories grand or wavering planchette.
We make our lives
a bubble chamber,
and the photographic plate
is read as if it were the alphabet.

What the Scintilla?

 

The sentence makes reference scintillate: it creates a hovering in things.

         from “Seeking a Sentence” by Pierre Alferi (tr. by Joseph Simas)

 

When struck by waves, a blue-hot photon, say,

or alpha particle, the target flashes —

like that? Sense floats as the sentence slams away

as if reindeer under Santa’s lashes.

 

Perhaps it’s just a twinkling, light from stars

refracted in the turbulent night air,

the sudden delta of some millibars

and once straight lucid beams blur, flicker, flare;

 

or then the aura at the dazed eye’s edge

before the migraine blooms (there is a kind

of dizzy hover there, till brain meets sledge);

 

or dots on a grid illusion, percept designed.

Where, then, should the poet sink the dredge:

in things, or things between, or just the mind?

All is One and One is All, My Ass


To finish all of it, I’d have to do
three and one quarter things each hour, unless
I did two things at once; then I’d get through
at one and ten-sixteenths per, but square the stress.


Overworked? Bewildered? Sure, for now,
yet even the world, with time. will cease its spinning.
But then I heard a voice: “Hey, dude. Oh, wow,
to work it out, go back to the beginning.”

So I rode a passing tachyon on back
before the old Big Bang. We all were there,
packed like sardines, sardines that got sucked smack
into a black hole, squashed to point-like where.
I heard a familiar voice, stupid and slack:
“Dude, open a window, I need some air.”

 


◊     ◊     ◊     ◊     ◊

Points of Reference


A poem is a map that should lead me to some orgasmic discovery.
    — Brandy Burrows

1. Magnetic North

In the last two centuries, magnetic north
has meandered 700 miles or so.
Molten nickel-iron churning at the core
generates a field which tilts and bends,
but on such scale of time and space its flicker
is unnoticed; the onset of a shudder
outlives us, so all seems steady and still.
The compass needle points, points north, points us.


2. The Wandering Nerve

We've documented through our research that women who have

complete transection -- interruption of the spinal cord -- can experience orgasms.

     -- Dr. Beverly Whipple

The vagus (Latin for “wandering”) splits off
from the other cranial nerves, and travels
down the neck to innervate the larynx,
the heart, digestive system, kidneys, bladder,
winding its last filaments into portions
of the reproductive system.
                                              We think
of the spinal cord as the one conduit
of our body’s movement, sensation, control:
a hierarchical system of branchings.
But there are overlapping networks, webs
tenuous and fine, unmapped threads, fibers
through which faint impulses shiver and spread.


3. The Piri Reis Map

Some believe the 16th century
Book of Navigation charts the coast
of Antarctica, which lies beneath
a mile of glacial ice.

                                  The scale is wrong,
and certain charted features match the basins
of the Falkland islands and its strait.

And yet, with some adjustments, faded lines
correspond with digital displays
of radar surveys made from space that pierce
the blue-white pall to intimately trace
the naked contours of the continent.


4. Night, in the Forest

On a cloudy night, in a forest far
from cities, there is an absolute dark.
For hunger or thirst or some other need,
you must travel. You feel along a tree trunk,
push fingers into the moist bristle of moss.
It grows thicker, higher on one side, and
hardly at all on the other: the north and south.
You walk a few minutes, then run a hand
down another trunk, eyes closed to concentrate,
to check your direction.
                                       You wipe the sweat
from your face with a hand already moist
with the dewy musk of moss and earth.
For a second, you feel about to remember
something from childhood, or a past lover,
or a dream, but there’s nothing but the feeling.
Eyes wide open to the darkness, you move on.

A Meditation on Detachment Occasioned
by Somewhat Improper Thoughts

 

A decent quantum of space ahead, she walks,

and absently my eyes, and some dim zone

of my mind not fixed on thoughts of work, are warming

themselves, I realize, upon the image

of her Aphrodite-grade ass, snug in black —

executive function jolts awake, halts

the dream mid-stream.

 

                                        It’s all illusion, I

remind myself, review the stark, cool facts.

The cells of her trim body are outnumbered,

at ten to one, by microbes: architecture,

no matter how refined, is rented space.

 

Her too, too solid atoms float and bond

or lattice fine as lace, yet hollow too:

the particles within but one ten-trillionths

of the volume. See! an airy phantom floats

ahead of me: the sidewalk, trees mere shadows.

 

And what fine antidote to love of flesh

and matter that it’s less than five percent

of things; the universe is mostly dark

energy and matter, and all of this,

the girl and I, the concrete walk, streets, cities,

continents, the earth are but a scab

of foam upon a wave, rising for now,

within an endless, unfathomable sea.

 

I hold this cosmic mind a breath or ten,

then this or that, the curtain falls again.

 

Lady Cancellata

 

Mirrors multiply the scene until

the ballroom seems the universe,

diamond-like, a labyrinth for light

where all that is is in reverse.

 

Dancers feint, revolve, finesse a turn

upon parquet of night and day.

Prisms in the chandeliers refract

the rays to join the roundelay.

 

Waltzes waver through the perfumed air,

musicians thrum the atmosphere,

voices climb the scales while others fall,

and then she’s there; they disappear.

 

Glimmers ghost along her snowy throat,

the rose she holds rejects the red,

while grasping tendrils of her hair

devour each beam that haloes round her head.

 

We perceive by indirection, light

and sound reflect and interfere;

wave will cancel wave, and rhythm, rhythm,

we sway along the humming here.

 

I await the wave to mirror me,

a stillness shared in agitation,

antiparticles that meet again,

immaculate the cancellation.

Chicken Little Hawking

 

“I am convinced that humans need to leave Earth.”

 — Stephen Hawking, keynote address to

      Explorers Club, March 15, 2017

 

The sky is falling, so we better fall

on it before it gets the chance. Quit stalling,

says Steve. Our backsides are against the wall.

The sky is falling.

 

So there’s that greenhouse we have been installing,

or solar flares — forget that parasol.

Could be some nations might go nuke brawling.

 

Or you could catch some virus at the mall:

a GE super virus! Quit your bawling.

Escape to space (BYO alcohol).

 

Steve thinks that evil robots might come calling:

a quantum chip AI with wherewithal

to terminate our foolish Facebook lolling.

 

And now the doomsday Higgs comes to appall:

“catastrophic vacuum decay”. It’s galling.

For years now, Steve-o warned about it all:

the sky is falling.

 

 

Circle of Least Confusion

 

Real lenses do not focus light rays perfectly.

At best focus, a point looks like a spot rather than a point.

The smallest spot a lens can produce is known as the circle of least confusion.

 

I push my glasses down a bit

to better read the morning paper.

I’ve left my reading glasses, God

knows where, and even those need some

positioning for best results.

 

Yet the optometrist’s baroque machine

inspired confidence precise,

fine measurements were being made,

although the longer that the game

of “which is better” went around,

the more the doubt became quite clear.

 

It’s fuzzy, approximate focus

all round, our scopes and lenses flawed,

and even when the picture’s sharp —

is that the moon? or speck of pollen?

or some amoeba on the prowl?

 

No focus absolute, I read

the news at breakfast, book of haiku

at lunch, or just today at Arby’s,

a fair translation of the Tao.

I move the lenses back and forth,

and focus, focus, faintly hoping

to shrink my circle of confusion.

 

 

Future Space Suit

after art piece “Retro Future Space Suite” by Alexander Kennedy

Gresham Art Gallery, San Bernardino Valley College, May 2018

 

The suit, with bubble helmet, silver trim,

atomic sign belt buckle, indicator

lights flashing, vaguely indicating fate or

02 levels, klicks to the crater’s rim,

 

is a dream from Flash Gordon, when style could rule,

or covers for Amazing Stories, twin

to a spaceship all late-50s caddy fins

that travels faster than the speed of cool.

 

Before we actually went there, space was fun.

We’ve met the horror of the vacuum, vast

and empty, ionizing radiation.

Perhaps one day, long hence, when space is won,

we’ll play, not just in our imagination,

in groovy one-piece space pajamas at last.

 

© 1990-2019 Joel Lamore