Friday, November 30, 2018

Chaos theory -- portrayed in poetry

     A poem I have long loved is "Chaos Theory" by poet (and fiction writer and scholar) Ronald Wallace -- and he has given me permission to offer it below.

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" 

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