A magazine of sound and fury
Nebulae: A Backyard Cosmography
A companion volume to The Other End
of the Driveway that looks up and
outward to the stars and
planets.Download an electronic copy for
only $8.95 or get a paperback for
$20.95 by clicking here.
The implicate order of snow and seed
After the most recent snowstorm to obliterate life as we know it, my
mind was wandering more during the shoveling than it usually
does in its efforts to stay awake. Instead of aggravating me, as usual,
the snow was fascinating me.
It was blue.
Now, I've noticed this before, of course. In between the flakes, so to
speak, new snow glows faintly azure. Looking directly at it, you
almost can't see it. Like the zodiacal light, it's clearer viewed almost
remotely in your peripheral vision.
In the snowbank I was building there beside the steps, this blueness
was unfolding out of the whole pile in the distant glitter of the low,
bright January sun.
You might think this skylike radiance results from the same process
that produces the blue sky. In the sky, sunlight bounces off
molecules and particles in the air and scatters. Since blue light
scatters more than red light, the air is blue, except directly next to
the sun. But in a snowbank, the sunlight is bouncing off the surfaces
of snowflake crystals, and so most of the light is scattering more or
less evenly and striking your eye as snow white. But ice crystals
absorb a certain amount of red light, so there's a bit more blue light
angling around, resulting in that azure tinge.
So I was wrong about what process makes snow blue. But then my
errant mind fixated on what was underneath it.
Every summer a tangle of wild madder grows up beside the steps.
Its stalks reach up out of a sprawling base with eight-leafed circlets
of little leaves. The flowers are tiny and white and spread out in
galactic sprays. Right there in front of me, underneath 3 feet of
sky-blue snow in 12-degree January cold, was the wild madder
waiting for spring.
Wild madder is a bedstraw and an annual, meaning it regenerates
itself from a seed every spring. The seed will germinate when three
elements -- water, oxygen and heat -- stir the tiny plant parts inside.
Then they'll unfold into light, which is the fourth element necessary
to grow. All seeds, whether they're bedstraws, hemlocks or grasses,
operate the same way.
In one theory of how the physical world works, processes like this
are described as being enfolded in the matter. The process is an
order enfolded in the seed. In the right conditions, that order unfolds
into a plant. In the theory, which was generated by quantum
physicist David Bohm, the process is an "implicate order"; the plant
itself, which is a very orderly structure of stalks, leaves and flowers
despite its wild-looking madderness, is an "explicate order."
The natural world as we see it is the visible, explicate order of
things. The processes that give rise to the natural world are
invisible, implicate orders. Within the seed that will become the
wild madder plant is an implicate order, common to all plants.
Within the blue light that grazes your eye from inside a new
snowbank are the quantum properties of electromagnetic energy --
an implicate order. Snow crystals themselves grow by the billions
according to an implicate order. When the wild madder unfolds this
summer, an implicate order inside will convert light into food.
The implicate order is not simply any process you can't see; it's an
order enfolded into what you can see. The whole universe is an
unfoldment of implicate order. "In the implicate order," Bohm wrote,
"the totality of existence is enfolded within each region of space (and
Pausing from my snow-shoveling grouchery for a few moments in
my little region of January cold, I caught a glimpse of blue sky
among the ice crystals and saw underneath it to summer, patiently
waiting there beside the step to unfold.
"Far away and unconnected"
By Bruce Wallace
Far away and unconnected with my backdrop
an old complaint and one which follows
me around like my elongated shadow
on any winter forenoon
Thisland, Thatland, settings peopled
with shadows I never bed with, marry
I have only deep connection with you
my fellow skimmers, my loves,
immune to tangled nightmare we slide together
over the mythical landscape,
the self-embracing landscape.
There are others, I've seen them,
who actually plow the lands
and pay taxes on them
and have no complaint
They sow babies from one end of the field
to the other
become tangled in the nightmarish roots
embrace the earth people
all over the non-mythical landscapes
all over the stage set while we, you and I,
watch with relief and wonder
and other mixed feelings
in the wings
Bruce Wallace spent most of his boyhood in Dedham, Maine, and
lived much of his adult life itinerantly in Europe, where on
Mallorca in the 1960s and '70s he was a close friend of the British
poet Robert Graves. He returned to the U.S. in the 1980s and later
retired to a cabin in Cherryfield, Maine, where he died in May
2012 at the age of 73. His copious, whimsical and skillful
autobiographical and verse writings were published in privately
produced pamphlets in the last years of his life. "Far away and
unconnected" closes the first volume of his most formally composed
memoir, "Pubeward Youth." His memoir of childhood in Down
East, Maine, "Dedham Days," is available through Lulu.com.
Living in the Questions
A 21st century talk before the Pennsylvania Poetry Society
By William Hathaway
I’m delighted to talk to the Pennsylvania Poetry Society,
but I can’t call myself a Pennsylvania poet because I’ve
only lived here a little over a year. I like it here. I was
living in Maine which is a very beautiful place, but I’m
having more fun here and there is beauty here as well and
the people are a lot less wintry. Having said that, I’m still
not a Pennsylvania poet. Over the years my poems have
appeared in Montana, New York and Louisiana poetry
anthologies, yet I’ve always felt awkward about being
represented equally with poets whose themes are
passionately regional. Reed Whittemore had a poem I
liked about watching “his bird” in “his tree,” but when
his bird flew away to his neighbor’s tree he was seized
with instant resentment. I was once fulsomely introduced
to a Sheboygan, Wis., audience as a Wisconsin poet, but
when I rose to admit that all I’d done in Wisconsin was
get born there a palpable chill filled the room. If you can
accept me as a guest Pennsylvania poet for the day, I’ll
Jupiter & moons/NASA
River in the Snow
By Liu Zong-yuan
Over a thousand mountains the winging birds
Throughout ten thousand paths, no trace of
In a solitary boat,
Straw hat and cape,
An old man fishes alone --
Cold river in the snow.
Translated by Bruce Wilson and Zhang ting-chen.
This text is transcribed from the book 100 Tang Poems,
published in a dual-language edition in China in 1988,
which I bought in the English language book shop in
Shanghai in 2000. In this little book are some of the best
translations of ancient Chinese poetry I've ever seen..