~ Maxwell's demon is a thought experiment
created by the physicist James Clerk Maxwell
in 1867 in which he suggested how the second
law of thermodynamics might hypothetically
be violated. (Wikipedia)
Imagine a demon guarding a trapdoor
between two cells, which it opens
as soon a fast-moving molecule
approaches. After some time, this being
succeeds in capturing all the fast ones
in cell B and the slow ones in cell A;
their grouping is meant to demonstrate
the nature of a pure state, which doesn't
actually exist in this model, since
the demon will have expended energy in quickly
opening and closing that door: fifty times?
sixty? a hundred? Though the temperature
in one cell might have cooled and the other's
become hot as a sauna, he'll also have
worked up a sweat by then; rolled up
his sleeves, unzipped his vest. Maybe
he's ticked off at not getting that job
promotion, at causing his wife to leave
because of his obsessive tracking of her
every move. In other words, the nature
of time's arrow points from order
to disorder; and the present
has moved from the past to a future
that's famously difficult to control.
(John Adams Whipple, 1852)
Pale mammogram, curved
horizon emerging out of an indigo
mist, you don't bother with time
as a calculation mediated by glass
plates, metal pistons, telescope
lenses. Tonight, even stars long
expired are swallowed again
in silvered corridors of water.
I swim in the oldest river there is.
There is no lack of sorrow here,
there is no lack of that particular
desire to never be forgotten.
But whenever I open my mouth,
only the grainy contours
register; what I mean to say is,
love floats like a blue speck,
transient and eternal,
through the drifting universe.
I don't remember the beach
from which we set out
in an outrigger canoe, the light
a strobe constantly deflecting
off the surface of water. But
I remember the fishermen we hired
to take us to the island, how quiet
their wordless conversation, how
the waves rough-slapped their salt
against the vessel's side as we passed
and yet they steered with firm hand,
no fanfare. I have always been afraid
of water, but here we were, entrusting
ourselves to this passage without life
vests, without so much as a single
inner tube or salbabida. What is an act
if not delineated by urgency? I can't
speak for others, but I too am intent
on leaving behind to reach some balance
or understanding; and mostly, arriving.
According to the Tipitaka
and other accounts, the Buddha
was handsome, of fine appearance,
pleasant to see, with a good
complexion and a beautiful form...
But there's so much divergence
in the matter of whether he was bald
or wore his hair in a man bun, whether
he was clean-shaven or had a beard
or mustache, hair being such a touchy
subject wherever you go. Having
too much hair or hair in the wrong
places, or conversely no hair at all;
waxing your legs or eyebrows, never
plucking what nature meant to grow
in the hollows of the human
body— And where is the follicle
connecting flesh to the soul, that
luxuriant strand our grandmothers
sought as they parted our hair with
the patience of fine-toothed, bone-
handled combs? One psalm says my iniquities
have overtaken me, they are more numerous
than the hairs of my head; another says
I shouldn't worry, for every hair
on my head is already accounted for. Before
the Buddha's enlightenment, it's said he
pulled out each of the hairs from his beard
and head. If it's true we're going to come
back again and again until we finally
get it, it could be as a phoenix eternally
rising from the flames; as the carnival's
bearded lady with the most marvelous strength,
or the only unshaven suspect in the police lineup
the witness is absolutely sure wasn't the one.
They climb over each other in the bin—
Chesapeake blue that turn violent
orange as the water boils. But now
as the storekeeper wields a pair of tongs,
all is skittery movement, no beautiful
swimming but a clawing at the air
during the moment of capture.
How smooth each back looks, otherwise.
And underneath, ridged grid like an old-
fashioned washboard; hinge that pries
open to cell after cell of white flesh
and rooms of brittle parchment.
Aren't they just like us, then—
eager to escape what's meant to be
our fate, trying to keep intact
inside the shell of our own
invisible sweetness that curdles
as soon as the enemy approaches.
Somewhere in the world, a body goes
through the same motions I make:
but the water I cup in my hands
when I turn on the tap
never washes over her hands, never
touches the skin of his face. The crust
of toast I put in my mouth never grazes
the bridge of her teeth, never tumbles
down the dry well of his throat. I slide
my feet into their two leather coffins,
my arms into bright cotton casings;
but somewhere in the world, the cold
wraps around her throat, the rain
lashes his limbs. How can the earth
have so many rooms and so little
space? Outside our windows,
gulls lift their dusty wings; their
shadows skim across our walls.
When wind blows across
the roof shingles, sometimes
it makes the sound of a hundred
typewriter keys. The carriage
moves from one end to the other.
Whatever letter it was writing
is snatched up before the ink
has dried. No one will ever know
what it was trying to say
to you or your shadow.
A girl cries into her mobile, bites
the ends of her scarf. She says
her heart feels like it's going
to burst. Are you there?
Are you there? On an island
in Japan, or in a town I can't
remember, someone has put up
a booth from which to call
the dead. Hundreds have made
this pilgrimage to pick up
the receiver and speak into it
or sing, while crows roost on its
little roof, while rain or hail
drums on the glass. Do you
like flowers? There are flowers.
And a shot glass where someone
once poured a drink; a dog-eared
novel, an unused airline ticket.
A man sits on a bench under
the corner streetlight. He
is waiting for the bus, or
he will spend the night there
in his thin coat unless
the storekeeper and his wife
take him in. Does he ever feel
like his heart is going to burst?
Maybe his heart burst long ago.
Maybe there is only before
and after the heart burst.
Where it actually burst, a page
was added to the telephone
directory; a loaf of bread
disappeared from the shelf.
1. Some people joke about how immigrants can't tell the difference
between jokes and non-jokes.
2. They're always so serious, even when their co-workers
slap them on the shoulder and say I was only joking.
3. In our world we don't fool around with language; words
are like spells— once said, they cannot be unspoken.
4. According to one legend, the tree of heaven fell
into the earth; its branches, once heavy with sweet
oranges, snaked through rock as veins of gold.
5. A true map will show where hills have been leveled,
where plains are barren as sorrow; where soldiers
came with guns to finish off the livestock.
6. This is where ships with foreign flags first dropped
anchor in the bay; the shore, lined with rough grass,
was a mouth sealed shut, never speaking of El Dorado.
7. You probe through fissures in rock; as you go,
your body inching forward makes a tunnel.
8. The gods will not tell you if the roots of the tree
are in Kabayan or Kibungan.
9. One does not fool around with language; that
would be irresponsible. Listen instead for thunder.
10. You knew what was yours for as long as you can
remember; when someone takes your finger to make
a mark on paper, the taste of rusted metal
fixes in the air.
Here's the light back
in the sky, with floodwaters
receded as if to say it isn't
time yet for the big obliteration.
Here are branches and other tree
debris thrown down by wind, all
the little nests remaindered
from spring or summer.
The sounds of leaf-blowers
rip through the quiet of morning;
rakes comb through lawns of green.
We are so eager to re-order our
small portion of this fading universe:
so eager to gather leaves for burning,
to plan next summer's holiday on
some island not yet under water.