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Physics

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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)
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