Chaos Theory by Ronald Wallace
1. Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions
For want of a nail the shoe was lost,
for want of a shoe the horse was lost,
and so on to the ultimate loss—a battle,
a world. In other words, the breeze
from this butterfly's golden wings
could fan a tsunami in Indonesia
or send a small chill across the neck
of an old love about to collapse in Kansas
in an alcoholic stupor—her last.
Everything is connected. Blame it on
the butterfly, if you will. Or the gesture
thirty years ago, the glance across
the ninth-grade auditorium floor,
to the girl who would one day be your
lover, then ex-lover, then the wind
that lifts the memory's tsunami,
the mare of the imagination, bolting,
the shoe that claps the nail down on
your always already unending dream.
2. Love's Discrete Nonlinearity
No heart's desire is repeatable, or,
therefore, predictable. If a few hungry foxes
gorge on a large population of rabbits,
the population of foxes increases
while that of the rabbits declines,
until some point of equilibrium is passed
and the foxes begin to vanish with
the depleted supply of rabbits, and then
the rabbits multiply, like rabbits. And so on.
The ebb and flow of desire and fulfillment
is a story as old as the world. So,
if I loved you, finally, too much, until
you began to disappear, and I followed,
would you theoretically return to love
repeatedly again? There are forces so small
in our story of foxes and rabbits
no Malthus could ever account for them.
Whole species daily disappear, intractable
as weather. Or think of a continent's
coastlines, their unmeasurable eddies
and whorls: infinite longings inscribed
by finite space and time,
the heart's intricate branchings.
3. Strange Attractors
Our vision is simply not large or small enough
to encompass love's fractal geometry.
Who can know the motion of whorl within whorl
entrancing that paradoxical coastline, the changing
habitat of rabbits, the possibility that,
in the clockwork attraction of the solar
system, some heavenly body may not appear
every few million years, to throw all our
calculations asunder? Which says something
for randomness, which has its own hopeful
story. It's just that the patterns of love
and loss are so limitless that chaos
makes its own beautiful picture in which
we are neither (for all our grand needs
and egos) first cause nor unrepeatable.
We are uniquely strange attractors, love's
pendulum point or arc, time's shape or fancy,
in a system with its own logic, be it
the cool elegance of eternity, or
the subatomic matrix of creation and decay.
"Chaos Theory" first appeared in Ploughshares, Winter 1995-96, and appears here with permission of the author. This poem also is found -- with a host of other mathy poems -- in the anthology, Strange Attractors: Poems of Love and Mathematics (AK Peters/CRC Press, 2008), edited by Sarah Glaz and me.
Here is a link to my 2016 posting of Wallace's "String Theory"