Physics

By Richard Kenney b. 1948 Richard Kenney

in Riddles, for Mary

*

How many suns   
will cross its coign   
before the last   
freeze? What
pennywhistle
spun its point
on the glass
breeze? Whose   
airs are loosened   
in the pane
like miniature   
degrees, where   
breath condenses   
into rain
among the apple   
trees? Here
tesserae
have turned to earth,
here blossoms may   
attend to birth   
as sun becoming   
leaves; here
branches seem   
to lead the glass,   
whose scenes compose
as seasons pass,   
the lifetime, piece
by piece.... A sphere

       *

Begins and ends:   
suppose, as glaciers   
drop their catch,   
as memory’s
a ragged seine,   
as grain by grain   
a dead morraine   
the sky is softly   
sifting ash,
as constellations   
each rescind
to embers, umbral   
lees—alas,
the crown lens   
will surely tear   
to end the long,   
sweet refrain
of sun to moon   
to sun again,   
of E from M
C2—
and then what breath   
once shaped the pane   
may lose itself   
(we pray) in airs   
our children, too,   
had breathed in time,   
and theirs, and theirs.

       *

If oracles
recall in riddles   
orreries
in orreries,
the quantum of   
the apple’s arc
the piper’s tune,
the dancer’s turning   
crown of sonnets   
in the dark
by starlight ground   
between the querns   
spun withershins   
of dawn and dusk   
to wreathe a green
and weathered earth—
it’s moonshine, love,   
and loneliness.   
Do looney jigs
unwind the suns?
Might jugglers drop them
every one?
Are seeds resewn,   
or tales respun?   
When pipers stop   
to play the bones   
the very stones   
are left undone.

       *

To please the Sphinx
all life unreels
through black magnetic   
stone-strewn fields   
where pitchblende blinks   
its slow decay   
tic-tic-tic
de-lightedly
by alpha, beta,   
gamma, delta—
time dilates
and starlight bends
in gravity
like roundelays.   
All light, partic-
ulate, licks out   
one way, in waves;   
electric clouds   
expand in spheres   
whose uncracked shells   
concentrically   
unrecalled
across the parsecs   
and the years   
ring out, shift red   
(like Hell), disperse
the edges of
the universe—

       *

Eclectic quarks   
a dish collects   
to parse into   
initial text—
miraculous,   
exotic sky!—
a Book of Kells   
whose quirkish tale
in optical
if stale effects   
is mirrored in   
the lemur’s eye,
as through the hatchling’s   
candled egg
comes first light to
the cockerel—
As Sol dissolves   
against the clock,   
and seismographic
needles track,   
and continents   
incline to raft,   
uranium
sines off to lead   
or raindrops pock
a full carafe   
to lilypads
inside the head—

       *

Assymmetries:
no wave contracts—
a tracer’s seam-
less, sequinned O,
or stoned window’s   
cataract—
What echoes in   
the ears of bats,   
frail globes of light   
colliding back?   
Kaleidoscopes   
reshuffle shards,   
toc, starred;
tic, intact—
let’s retrodict   
the apple’s fall,   
the reel’s hiss,   
the needle’s spin;   
the pin-gears on   
the color wheel   
feel artificial
after all;
let’s kiss the dice   
behind the eyes   
and finish this   
where it begins—
the empyrean’s   
synchesis:

       *

Now ask why seasons
follow sequence,
green to red   
or red to blue,   
while life re-seeds
back through the snow
like pattern bleeding
into hue;
how particles   
of colored sand
sift back a shaman’s
circling fist,   
as first riddled   
suns-at-seed
spun out this creaking   
artifice—
Would sonnets turned
at light speed   
cooper square
in their vitrines?
Or meter’s super-
sonics trace
a breath against
a mirrorscape
where starlight’s slow
as clotted cream,
and every scheme   
anticipates?

       *

A stich in time:
where earth has cooled,   
antique tectonic   
shelves awash
in tepid seas
whose milky chyme   
has knit such spiral   
molecules
as struck off copies   
of themselves
(O miracle!)—
and what’s occurred   
but stray elec-
trical discharge   
between some cloud   
and neaping tide   
still arcs inside   
the notochord....   
Who knows when first
aortic arches
registered
an ocean’s surge,   
or slipped awake   
or stirred asleep;   
how many tides   
had ebbed until   
the tiny seahorse   
heart could leap?

       *

And here Odysseus’
dazzled seas,
his charts, his quilled   
geodesy:
where suns have fallen   
grain by grain—
according to
what codicil?—
like yellow pollens,
sill and pane;   
where Coriolis   
forces cause
the cosmic dust
to curl down drains
whose gravities   
call back for us   
across the years,   
like sea to rain....   
Where, streaming tails
of phosphorus   
dead-center through
the Ferris whorls   
and net-work of   
the window’s seine,
white moons like minnows   
slip its sash
into the seiche   
inside the brain—

       *

A seer’s odd   
sensation: say
why dawn should follow   
each saccade,   
Charybdis’ widened
irides
contract again   
from west to east,
a narrow-waisted
fall of sand
or hollow winestem
once released   
between two fingers
of what hand,
its syrinx sounding   
centuries....
And here the Masters
of Lascaux
pinched out an earth
and shaped a sky   
inside a mountain
years ago—
time out of mind,
we say—just so,   
rebounding echoes
fade to rhyme   
across an inch,   
an age, and die—

       *

Of course he’s blind,
whose achromatic
lenses frame
his myths around
a perfect scale   
of azimuths
and measured time—
touch the braille:
a moth wing brushed
to prism’s flame,
a telescope’s   
collapsing torch   
astronomers   
routinely scry,
or pipers, jack-tars,
all the same:
to ask true numbers
of the night,
to know the cauter
of the day—
one star resolving,
silver, high,   
another disk,   
another, then   
a cataract
of viscous light,   
a stack of coins   
against the eye—

       *

And what attractive   
force is this?
Coincidence,
et cetera—
full moons inset
and stacked like plates;
the planets nested   
flat as spoons—
a satyr-play.
Ah, love, instead,   
let’s study love;   
it’s getting late.   
As geomantic
curvatures
may cup the clanking
cosmos in,
a sparking censer’s   
pendulous
and fragrant arc—
as space depends
on fob-chains which,   
if charmed and real   
are wholly im-
material—
then we, I think,   
are amateurs,
and life a mys-
tery to feel:

       *

If jugglers are   
geometers
and pennywhistles
cost a dime;
if planets on   
their abacus   
click back to us,   
tic back, because   
the open skies   
in memory
are perpendic-
ular to time—
one purple night’s
a gemmary
of all nights figured
by design
across our sleep   
in ores as rare
as any dust-motes   
in the mine
of empty space—
an orrery
whose imperfection
in the mind
of which jongleur   
you’ve married (who?)   
reflects in these   
beriddled lines:

       *

As ephemer-
ides of blue
and red and green   
are held apart   
caparisoning
simple truth
seen bending through   
the prism’s bars—
as light unrav-
elling reveals
such orreries,   
ascending, starred,   
as unify
into a field
where dream dilates   
and glass extrudes   
and sonnets draw   
like taffy through   
a compass-needle’s   
eye—this chart   
is scanned in light   
of you, of you,
the physics he’s   
accustomed to,
the gravity
against his heart,   
whose art again   
begins for you.

       *

Richard Kenney, “Physics” from Orrery (New York: Atheneum, 1985). Copyright © 1985 by Richard Kenney. Used by permission of the author.

Source: Orrery (Yale University Press, 1985)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Richard Kenney b. 1948

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Sciences

 Richard  Kenney

Biography

Poet Richard Kenney was born in 1948 in Glens Falls, New York and earned a BA from Dartmouth College. His first collection of poetry, The Evolution of the Flightless Bird (1984), received the Yale Younger Poets Prize. The book’s formal ambitiousness and technical facility, including an extended sonnet sequence, presaged Kenney’s future work, which has won accolades for its deft use of traditional forms and themes as well as its . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poems by Richard Kenney

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Sciences

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.