THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING AT A CIRCLE (After Wallace Stevens, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”)
The eye is the first circle
wrote Emerson. The first
secret of circles: nothing
The twenty snowy
mountains. The blackbird
eye. The bird.
The eye arrived only yesterday, whirled
up out of the sea,
sea-screen to catch the pantomime of light.
The most perfect sphere ever detected by humans
is a cloud of charged particles called the electron.
Its miniscule deformity implies a cosmic favoritism for matter:
Human. Blackbird. Electron.
The walrus, a fleshy darkness, turning
in watery circles before the dim
window, old sea
globe locked to mine, pressed
close for each pass. Leap
of the captive look, light
in exchange for thought.
That the perfect sphere does not exist
except in math, a ghost itself. That the oblate
spheroid is common as fruit
or Earth. That matter seems synonymous
with flaw, which meant, first, snowflake
or spark of fire, a fragment broken off.
It began this way: tropical monkeys flying through green light
sharpened the foveal focus to snatch
through whirl and splash of limbs the jewel-
skinned fruit, synonymous with delight.
Oh thin chemists of the nineteenth century,
whose dream of the snake biting its tail revealed
the perfect hexagon of benzene, sweet
smelling and strongly bonded because of the resonance of its electrons,
giving us polystyrene, BPA, nylon and other petroleum products,
did you never see the blackbird cross your laboratory window?
Ice and glass, the eyeball,
Earth: each is pluvial, a fluid, rounding
down in its own orbit, borne
toward its original core, akin
in this to all matter—blackbird,
tree, granite, lover—vast
ebb of a vast flow.
That benzene because of its shape
slips easily inside human DNA
to scramble its sentences.
That red blood cells carry
the deranged message throughout the body.
Life-giving cells, donut-shaped so they can fold
into even the tiniest capillary.
Reynolds calculated liquid motion. The stream,
turbulent and free, curling around itself
at its boundaries, forming circular eddies,
has a high Reynolds number, like weather,
earth’s magma and the sun’s
sea of hot plasma. Blood’s number depends
on volume and vessel: low in tiny veins of the brain, higher
in the broad aorta, verging on turbulence, which sounds like a murmur.
The aqueous humor, on the other hand, has Reynolds number 0.00001.
So slow as to seem still,
a body falling through dirt.
When the blackbird flew out of sight, it marked the edge
of many circles.
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
among the birch limbs.
[This poem is indebted to the following:
Peter S. Stevens, Patterns in Nature (Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1976);
Paul Shepard, “The Eyes Have It” and “The Arboreal Eye” in Encounters with Nature (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1999) 40-59; Edwin Cartlidge, “Electron Perfectly Round to One Part in a Million Billion, Experiment Finds,” Nature, May 25, 2011, http://www.scientificamerican. com/article.cfm?id=electron-perfectly-round-to-one-part-in-million-billion-experiment-finds.]