The Drake Equation
1. they were a kind of solution
Say one Spaceman, when she lands, will touch
down in a human sentence, speaking Dutch,
a dialect of Mentalese. Her torch-
songs (loosely rendered from the Arcturan): “Baby
Let’s Get Square with Pi,” or, “You’re the Apple
of My Eye,” or “Boola Theta Babel
Bye-Bye.” It might make sense. This is a heady
thought. The traditional verse, viz. “Who’s Your Daddy,”
as sung in The War of the Worlds, and signaled Mayday,
mayday—a little like Beethoven’s 4th in digital
redaction—may underpin what limbic Dutch
must once upon a time have bloomed beneath the sagittal
crest of Homo—
Who? What? This news just in!—the starry
sky is empty. Spacemen are out. Sorry.
2. exo-statisticians change minds, cite insufficiency of planetary bodies of right type
What, no aliens? Or, with greater dignity,
life elsewhere in the universe? That window’s
shut, we learn. Astronomers, indignant
desert birds, eyes screwed to the long cinder-
scuttles of their telescopes, will voice some doubt,
one hopes! This is too lonely. Heliocentric
humility’s a habit hard to shake. Endowed
with what we’ve called “intelligence,” or “powerful
intelligence,” like-minded creatures, each an end-
point in a home-world’s evolutionary raffle,
well, just must across the vasty deeps of space
and time yearn forth to find each other with awful
big radios. That’s how the Book of Revelations
we knew used to read, rephrased so, pi be praised.
My friend the geometer, when asked if pi
were in the sky or in the skull, replied
pi’s the pontification of a ratio.
Bisected, so, the circle: pi. To show
that in a well-formed sentence, well, that’s human, sure.
All language is. So ever since that fateful shore
of Lake Turkana where tongue forked, where first
flaking syntax split the atom into force
and mass, thing and verb, the copula
has groped to reanneal it: this opulence
is equal to the sum of those simplicities ...
So here’s the mystery: across the placid
surface of the water a salt of stars
once scattered, hissing. Caliban stammered Are
stars. Then, Look, look up at the stars!
4. prose obtrusions concerning the keats equation
Hold it there.
Would you say truth’s a property of sentences, but beauty’s not?
So that mysterious predictive gift of mathematics is precisely that of sentences like I predict the sun will rise tomorrow?—isn’t that the leap that left the chimpanzees behind?—and adding time of sunrise just adds increment to the precision?
So that Platonic realm where Mathematics must exist to be discovered by Ramanujan or Hardy or Arcturans tucked in anywhere in time or space is just that space where earlier equations live, like love’s a rose or tears are rain, which Hardy’s and Ramanujan’s respective ancestors discovered independently?
That if in England two men feed a horse, the horse stays thin, the axiom would hold as well for two Tibetan yaks or fat Jurassic stegosaurs (assuming less that that’s what the Arcturans use to carry mail than that, like us, they pinch their pence)—
That that’s the realm where poems and equations likewise lie unspoken, quietly awaiting their discovery?
And so those famous instances where mathematics efflorescing on some blackboard purely for the play of it turn out to have a shocking congruence with patterns in the world is just exactly like the case where poetry is news before the news it stays?
That hadn’t the acclaimed predictive potency of mathematics best be cast as a reminder of forgotten shock—the shock our shaggy kind must once have felt, framing for the first time well-formed sentences about the world that was, and then about the world about to be, and so extended human sensibility and thrust it forth as backward through the night of time?
Yes, if diffidently.
The aliens are back, incidentally. Astral
systems dropping planets like nuts in May. Exo-
biology leaps again into likelihood. A straw
poll proves the numbers may be multiplex.
No small relief for this slow versifier,
who, peering through this poem’s decades-long zoom-
lens has seen what changes?—sapphire
heaven bleached of all biology?—shazam!—
and then revivified, less abruptly,
with a thought. In the same blink of the clock
the pupil of a black hole was seen to matter,
some dinosaurs grew feathers, and (this one for Ripley’s)
Pluto got demoted from a planet to a rock.
Also my family died. Also I had a daughter.