Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Trip Wire

"...for us physicists believe the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one." - Albert Einstein

We sit in the muted half-light of a Manhattan office,
its Industrial-design quickly fading from fashion.
We're taking time to bond as coworkers, he new,
me struggling with depression and burnout
with work after 4 years. He loves science, this tech writer
and former philosophy student, and he wants me to know
that the universe is different from what we see.

The mystery unfolds right now, he says, the Higgs Boson
on the verge of discovery, the cosmos decoded,
unwrapped, open to minds with knowledge, complete.
He wants me - me - to know there's nothing beyond now.
He wants me to know that I can know what he knows.

Not that the universe is ordered, no, but chaos
pure and simple, chaos birthing chaos,
the real world that appears to those who can see.

...they're colliding heavy lead ions
to explore the creation of matter itself
and the nature of the strong nuclear force
in the immediate aftermath of the Big Bang.

After I snap the photo of the rock den
and the park path leading to it along the stream,
five white tail deer run by and cross
downstream nearby. I follow flat-footed
on the rubber soles of my shoes, not
to alert them. The twin fawns drink
clear water rippling over shallow stones.

The does see or smell me watch,
and the herd skirts away along the yard of a home
at the park's edge. But the buck backtracks
down the path and climbs the hill alongside
the den. It stands sentry at the peak of the den,
in clear view of the world (as in a Medieval tapestry;
hunters, dogs and horses closing in).

He stands motionless, trembling I think,
and in that moment I imagine I see the code
in his genes, bulwark against all instinct for flight
and diverting attack from the does and fawns.

"We're recreating, in a sub-atomic fireball,
the conditions that existed a millionth
of a second after the Big Bang...

I find peace in bridges and imagine floating beneath
rock arches on gentle streams, constantly changing,
seeking form, finding none but stubbornly sure there's
a source of my meanders along muddy banks that I carve
and shape to no pattern, no blueprint but necessity.
I'm happy with the thought that fish hide in my weeds
that wave dreamily in the shade of willow and oak.

"It's so hot and so dense that
even protons and neutrons melt,

At the tail end of the friendly discussion, I
mention religion, and he pegs me to rights,
and knots and binds me to who I am:
one of those, one of those who believes what
they all - all religious types - believe....

He cites with slight sarcasm Pascal*, the gambler
with God, convinced the bet is a gambit
of despair, sacrifice on a board whose end game
leaves no hope of doubt. He suspects I'm wrong
about Pascal discovering probability theory, and he seems
disturbed to think that a scientist could solve
the cosmic numbers game, yet believe still that God
exists, that a choice for now beyond now makes sense.

and we end up with a sort
of primordial soup known
as the quark-gluon plasma."

I stand in the rain after the deer disappear,
alive in the moment and the chance order
of nature that guided them into my presence,
then ashamed that I could not become invisible
to them so they'd stay and graze without fear.
Ashamed that I wanted to capture them in ones
and zeroes and twitter the image across the globe.

I tell him that humans need to believe that their lives mean
something, beyond this here and now; that the universe
must harbor some glue with words and things that tells what
humans must do to each other and how they can stave
off anarchy and build shelter against ruin, captive outside time.
That societies crumble and die when meaning disappears.
The mother steals her child's food, abandoned children
die on the road, or they are cast out of home at three
to fend for themselves and subsist as best they can.

We find silence then, he mulling I do not know what,
I wondering what life might mean in a universe
in constant change, reality outside the reach of humans
to understand, at least by us without the tools to see.

I walk to the car in the rain, smoke a cigarette, turn
on the game and drive home. Rain and mud soak my jeans.

Ablaze with eternal fire, doubt denudes reason
and its infinite desire for certitude behind appearance,
zero sum game of truth or dare, faith or doubt,
un coup de dés baffling surety.

The altars erode. Weeds crumble the paths
that go nowhere without feet to wear them down.

* Blaise Pascal (1623 - 1662), French physicist, scientist, philosopher and Catholic mystic. Famous for Pascal's Wager, which says that given that if God's existence is equally possible or not possible, the best choice is to wager on God's existence and thereby gain eternal happiness. In essence, we have nothing to lose; if God does not exist then we will gain the same thing as we will if He doesn't. On the other hand, if God does exist and we choose not to believe in the transcendent reality, then we will not gain eternal happiness.

(c) copyright 2012 Charles David Miller. All rights reserved.


  1. wow charles...this leaves me just it twice and just amazed of how you weave the strings together different rivers flowing, touching, then separating again...the conversation, thoughts, science, religion, the desire to find meaning and trying to explain...all so very honest and deep....and i'm moved to tears.. this is just an outstanding write...and really looking forward to meeting the bar today

  2. You do weave the strands together so beautifully (as Claudia said) the forest and city, the natural detailed world of the deer and the abstracts of the heated discussion--the pigeonholing of faith--I'm kind of amazed that the guy refused to believe that Pascal was a great mathematician!--and the close is especially strong to me--the foot-worn, or not, path. Really a whole story, as well as poem/philosophical discussion. k.

    1. goodness charles...def lots here...and wiht the eternal fire it makes me think a bit of the news recently of the near discovry of a god partical which to me sounds like a very dangerous thing...there is a lot of chaos in our world but i do believe in interconnection and if you look there are strings that attach all things in this world and show some commonality or order...this is epic there meaning, yes there is...

  3. I love the synchronicity as our Rector just gave her Easter sermon on this very science. Her take was that the cosmological constant helps us believe the miraculous and see somewhat the 'face of God'. The deer and our need to share them across time and space, Pascal's Wager, the depth of philosophical and emotional intelligence presented here is awe inducing. Thank you for this work of art and again for the prompt. I do feel it will feed my desire to create (for me a spiritual undertaking) for a long time.

  4. I am gobsmacked (English slang for speechless) This is a true epic Charles. It leaves me breathing out a whooosh of air that just says...WOW. I do believe that nothing is as we 'think' it is. That everything we see, we actually create. But, I also believe that something had to have created the fist 'big bang' it didn't just happen by chance, therefore it figures there had to be a prime creator. In the book 'Blasphemy' by Douglas Preston. He states that testing a secret particle collider they find 'God' at the point of collision and he has been waiting for us to do so. When they ask him why we are here, and what is our purpose and where HE came from, he states, he doesn't know all of the answers to our questions. All he knows is that it's man's task to stop the universe from continuing to heat up and then collapse in on itself again. And, he ends by saying: 'There is only one thing you need to know, the truth shall set you free.' Amazing book which was both informative and a thrilling high tech thriller read.
    When you think about this, they do say 'History repeats' I read somewhere that someone is intending to build a particle collider in space. It's already underway and is going to take maybe 10 years to complete. My thoughts are, I wonder if we haven't been 'there' before and were the instigators of the original big bang in exactly that same way? Who knows!
    Fabulous write Charles.

  5. I am nothing more than a wave of potentiality, collapsed now upon the shore of this fantastic weave. Makes me want to rewrite my own. Actually...I think I'll take a stroll to sync with the poetry of the White Tail ;) In awe, Charles...just that simple!

  6. I'm so glad I stopped by Dverse Poets today. Is it shear coincidence, random choice, that I did? How was I to know I'd discover a somewhat mystic writer?
    The depth and beauty of your words deserve some kind of award, but all I can do is give recognition.

    I love Pascal's thinking, what a worthy wager.

  7. Charles- this is phenomenal. Such depth to it. I really enjoyed the personal elements you painted in it, but also the wide ranging and universal questions it raised. Ive often pondered on this subject, of how, as you say, 'life needs to mean something to people'- but then balancing this with Scientific fact (apparently) about how eventually every single star will eventually burn out and time will cease to exist. NOW- ths made me think two things- number 1- whats the point- maybe i should just kill myself and no. 2- if this IS going to happen- then there is no point in worrying about anything which infinately increases happiness in every single second that you live and breathe. For me- this poem spoke to me about point number 2- even if there is NO point- science cannot answer or explain the sincerity and happiness of the soul. Great prompt, great write, i just hope mine does it justice (worried face)

  8. This is so far over my simple mind, I think I drowned about half way through it. I'm serious! You are so able to weave thoughts together in such complicity, that I constantly have to go back and start over. Good grief, man! And yet, somehow, it's peaceful. Brilliant, Charles; simply brilliant!

  9. So dense and rich without being dense. Parallel universes woven smoothly together. The ending so bleak...espec. tied with the rather sad vision of you driving home in wet that how we end?

    Did Pascal formulate probability theory?

  10. Really well done!

  11. I read this yesterday, and it gave me such sadness, Charles, that I couldn't comment adequately. It's an extremely powerful and moving piece for me. I am not a believer myself, but I feel(like this poem seems to feel) that the importance of valuing the spirit that faith can enable is vital to us as humans. Science is majestic and unknowable as any concept of god, never ending the questions with its answers, always finding more, but something in us needs,as you say, to feel that there *is* somewhere, a point. The writing here is so weary, but also so luminous and sees what needs to be seen, blending in meaning to a chaos that would otherwise be unbearable. Thanks for this burr under my metaphysical saddle, and also for a very cogent and thought-inciting prompt.

  12. your story is amazing and well written. i love the scene of the twin fawns.
    and mid-evil tapestry was a nice touch.

  13. Holy crap this is intensely brilliant! I was hooked from the very beginning, particularly the part about feeling like you see the "code in his genes". This is truly remarkable.

  14. A remarkable write Charles. I am blown away with your words. Philosophy is close to my heart as my hubby's passion lies in the words of Sarte, Pascal and Socrates/Aristotle. I sometimes tell him of you, but his passion is not into poetry writing. Thanks for the wonderful prompt ~ Your poem about the pond/egrets still sticks to my head ~

  15. I would lease out my first born (I'm not quite ready to give him up completely) to sit in on this discussion/debate. Something, probably Arthur C. Clarke, made me question the progression of time. I, like your physicist tech writer, became convinced that time is a place. Then, now and later all existing simultaneously. Years and education are under that bridge you wrote about, but I still kind of believe that. So this rang my bell. Loudly. It was a fun read, both times!

    Oh, and Pascal's Wager? After too many years of Catholic education, I recognize a good old CYA. ;-)

    Thank you for visiting my blog and your thoughtful comments. I appreciate it.

  16. I was impressed by your truly epic approach to what is an essentially philosophical discourse. I am a scientist as well as one who professes faith, and I see no discrepancy between the idea of a universe governed by natural law, and the idea of an omnipotent mind behind that natural law.

  17. Science just confirms there is order in chaos. Charles, this poetic discourse has a nice meandering quality.

  18. A poem and a treatise - not to mention a great treat. This is just fabulous. Mind-blowing even.

  19. Dunno if you remember that wonderful Eno album from the '70s, "Energy Fools the Magician," but the sentiment -- that we are fooled by what we think most -- is something that is more try about human nature even than our eternal quest for truth. This encounter between two species of believers on the border of knowledge and faith - with the natural interlude where all questions are resolved in being -- is really quite miraculous, more about the need to know and believe than anything achievable. Round and round we go with ones and zeroes, chasing that elusive God particle (telling, that the tech writer would hold that discovery up as proof of theory grander than God), when we could just let our nature be nature's, which is it is anyway. As Emerson said (and I hope I don't repeat myself here) in "Experience," "What imports it whether it is Kepler and the sphere; Columbus and America; a reader and his book; or puss with her tail?" Fine write. - Brendan

  20. Very deep poem, such intricate layers. I really liked the tapestry of mixing a beautiful natural scene, a conversation with a coworker, and occasional theory.

  21. A lot of great images in here, and the last one is a good closer. I think my favorite, though not the strongest, might be "I imagine I see the code /
    in his genes, bulwark against all instinct for flight..." As a new mom, I'm very sympathetic to this sentiment. What won't we do for our children? Science may explain it, but that hardly scratches the surface.

  22. I've been back for another read. Saw new things in it. Deep and outstanding, it is leaving a powerful impression on me.

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  24. So much to comment on here, Charles. I come away a wee bit fuzzy-headed as I feel I have to focus so carefully to gain comprehension. I don't know if I have the capacity to understand it all, to be perfectly honest lol. That which I do know I feel drawn to your namesake, Darwin,and feel reluctant? to believe in a deity as such. Although:
    "and we end up with a sort
    of primordial soup known
    as the quark-gluon plasmaough" That makes me laugh out loud as it is so lifeless! I'm not really sure where I stand on all of this but I do know 100% I am with you on just being and appreciating the beauty in life. Another awe-inspiring write, your brain is just bursting at the seams with insight! :)

  25. Pascal makes a lot of sense to I once heard a pastor say in church to a congregation: "Wouldn't you want to believe just to be sure? What have you got to lose by believing? Nothing...but you have so much more to gain." At the time, I took exception to it as it sounded pretty much like gambling and I didn't think I could seriously attend a church where faith was wagered on gambling. What the pastor said makes sense now. He was just being logical in his reasoning and trying to appeal to the intellect of those he was sharing the word with. Thanks for sharing Pascal's theory.

    "Trip Wire" is one of the most interesting, thought provoking and creative poems I've ever read online. Thank you, Charles.

  26. A very thought provoking piece. As an evangelical athiest I am constantly confronted by by the enigma of intelligent people who claim to believe in a god. Unlike Pascal, I don't think we should hedge our bets and believe something just in case it's true. This smacks of intellectual cowardice. For me,all beliefs must be based upon solid evidence and not upon fear of death, or a desire for immortality. Why people wish to survive death is beyond my comprehension. My life has significance precisely because it's temporary I find the whole idea of an after life repugnant.
    However, my views do not detract from either my enjoyment of your poem, or the important issues it seeks to explore.