Friday, December 9, 2016

Jack Scott writes


Nests are not thrown together,
but carefully assembled,
knit together piece by piece,
knots on a string of choices 
a snippet at a time, a straw, a twig,
slips and strips of yarn and threads,
feathers, down and seaweed,           
stems of weeds and flower heads -       
industry and patience yoked
together toward common end.

No drawing board, no architect or plan,
no preconception evident;
this hatches from its own intelligence,
its own egg, this idea of nest,
to begin this duet of certainty
to flesh these ideas out.

Predestined partners in this now,
basketweaving Yin and Yang 
absolutely bound to coincide.
In their flights of Maypole spiraling
he selects the territory, she the site.
In their magic, how do they know
when nest is done?
When the egg is in it. 

So it is beyond these fences
within broader boundaries
enclosing more
that can’t be weighed or measured
in tangibility.

Sweat, for instance,
between two bodies slippery in their heat,
careless in the transience of their lust.
She can’t hear the skeins of sound
loosed by their embrace - she’s deaf,
but he is deafer
to things far subtler than sound,
the silent sire who first begot
and then was not.

Vacationing from pain,
as far away as she can get,
self-medicating doctor explores by eye
horizon across Belfast Bay
from her chair upon the porch,
scans the nearer islands,
enjoys her stereopticon of reverie:
images as brief as blinks
blended with the butterfly effects
of all her history.

Some say god is in the details,
stepping stones to excellence;
others say the devil’s there
to seek or cause the finest flaw
and thwart the scheme of things.
The essence of the universe
might be the sum of details.
What’s a person or an egg,
but a smaller sum of all of these?

“Tea or coffee, Miss?”
asked deaf Alice with a voice
like cracked parchment or burnt skin,
as if she’d practiced sound from reading letters only,
or ordered from a catalog
without ever having heard a word.
She hadn’t.
Her attempt at speech
a willful feat;
how stubborn
no one knew but her.

Interpreting, the doctor ordered,
with soundless lips
while pointing at the menu.
Hearing with her eyes
the waitress turned to fetch the tea
with sugar and with lemon
having clearly in her mind
a picture of the three.

As Alice set the service,
the doctor asked with gestures:
how far along was she?
Five fingers, then three
followed by a bent one
made it clear enough.
Two weeks or so to go
and she looked it;
she was very round.

Compelled by curiosity
and an educated guess,
the doctor sought  the manager
indulging a suspicion
forming in her mind.

“Unmarried, true, her second such,
destined for adoption, too.
A good employee, honest, cheerful,
hard working, sober when she is,
all of that is why I hired her
and why I’ll keep her on
when this is over.
No, no kin I know of
except her baby soon,
and she’s not up to that,
not for lack of love, I’m sure,
but hers is such a heavy handicap,
misunderstood and borne alone,
it’s all that she can carry:
her own, of course,
and the burden of the child.”

The doctor listened carefully,
asked more questions,
measured size and weight
of her speculation.
Of the mother’s siblings,
she learned, two of three were deaf at birth as well.
Unanswered and unanswerable:
will the baby hear?

When she’d made her phone call,
once she’d passed the story on
to her childless friends
further down the map
the deal breaker loomed larger
than the hope within the deal.
Time, so eloquent and final,
will tell - about the hearing;
time always does.

The childless couple,
in a maze of desperation,
once the news had reached them,
felt the stress that lay in haste.
Driven toward a prompt decision
by a rising sense of incompletion,
childlessness, a given, keenly felt,
their expectation already focused
intensely on another baby
they’ve been negotiating for,
due later by a month or more.
They’d now have a choice of two,
doubling impatience.
With impetuosity,
the Maine child
is now first in line,
but with the cast iron caveat:
it must hear perfectly.

Now, so much to do:
lawyers and the principals, 
clear contract with no maybes,
with provision for return,
thorough audiology,
obstetrical  arrangements,
weighing the hospital’s merits,
assuring best postnatal care,
arranging all other services,
getting estimates as feasible,
arranging payment of each bill as due.
Picking out a wardrobe?
For which, a boy, or a girl?
Too early. Patience, patience.
The baby will remain in residence
until its health is verified and stable,
its hearing certified by possibly a second opinion
and unknown things:
overlooked, unexpected, or forgotten.


  1. A maypole (Maibaum) is a tall wooden pole erected as a part of various European folk festivals, around which a maypole dance often takes place. The festivals date back to the 16th century and usually occur on May Day (May 1) or Pentecost (Whitsun, 50 days after Easter), but in some places on St. John's Day (24 June, though the summer solstice that it celebrates varies culturally between 19-25 June). Young men erect small decorated "Maibäume" in front of their sweethearts' homes or attach a red heart with the girl's name written on it to the tree. Its origins are unknown, but it is primarily found in Germanic and neighboring areas under German influence. Even their original purpose is unclear, though they may be a ghostly remnnt of the pagan reverence for sacred trees and wooden pillars. They are usually viewed as phallic symbols; for instance the 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes erroneously believed that the practice was related to Priapus, the Greek fertility god, protector of livestock, fruit plants, gardens, and male genitalia, usually depicted with a permanent, oversized erection. (Depending on te source, he was the son of Dionysus and either Aphrodite or the wind nymph Chione, goddess of winter and snow, or of Hermes, Zeus, or Pan, another fertility god with whom he was often associated. In one account Hera cursed him with impotence. ugliness, and foul-mindedness while still in Aphrodite's womb because Paris of Troy had judged Aphrodite to be more beautiful than Hera.) Maypole designs vary considerably, but some Swedsh ones have a large horizontally suspended ring around it, hanging from ropes attached at the top of the pole to emphasize the procreation symbolism. In the 16th and 17th centuries English and Scottish Protestants forbade them; when the monarchy was restored in 1660 Londoners put up maypoles "at every crossway;" the tallest one was over 130 ft. tall; British maypoles have ribbons attached, which couples hold one end of while they weave the ribbons together by dancing in opposite directions until they finally unite at the base. In 1628 a number of indentured servants led by lawyer Thomas Morton deserted Plymouth Plantation and established their own colony in modern Quincy, Massachusetts; the colonial governor William Bradford was higky critical: "They also set up a May-pole, drinking and dancing about it many days togaether, inviting the Indean women, for their consorts, dancing and frisking togither, (like so many fairies, or furies rather,) and worse practises. As if they had anew revived & celebrated the feasts of the Roman Goddess Flora, or the beastly practieses of the madd Bacchinalians. Morton likwise (to shew his poetrie) composed sundry rimes & verses, some tending to lasciviousnes, and others to the detraction & scandall of some persons, which he affixed to this idle or idoll May-polle. They changed also the name of their place, and in stead of calling it Mounte Wollaston, they call it Merie-mounte;" theinident was th basis for Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story, "The Maypole of Merry Mount." Morton had earlier been a "landsman" for Ferdinando Gorges to overrsee his interst in Maine, the colony he had established in 1622. Belfast Bay is a town in Waldo County, Maine, at the mouth of the Passagassawakeag river estuary on Penobscot Bay. In 1630 the Penobscot tribe allowed English settlers to establish tradng posts there; the patent eventually passed to 35 Scots-Irish proprietors from Londonderry, New Hampshire, who renamed it Belfast.

  2. "Alice" is an English form of the Old French "Alis" (or "Alais"), the short form of "Adelais," a derivation from the Old High German "Adalhaidis" (noble natured).

  3. In 1800 philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte suggested that one "could not remove a single grain of sand from its place without thereby ... changing something throughout all parts of the immeasurable whole." The idea that the fate of one butterfly could have a far-reaching ripple effect on future events was the subject of "A Sound of Thunder," a popular 1952 short story by Ray Bradbury. The notion that initial conditions may influence later development such that a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state had been mathematically explored by Jacques Hadamard's 1898 description of the general divergence of trajectories in spaces of negative curvature and in Henri Poincaré's 1890 analysis of the three-body problem (taking an initial set of data that specifies the positions, masses, and velocities of three bodies for some particular point in time and then determining the motions of the three bodies, in accordance with classical mechanics), and later Poincaré suggested that such phenomena could be common in weather studies. During the 1950s, meteorologist Edward Lorenz became skeptical of the appropriateness of the linear statistical models in meteorology, since most atmospheric phenomena involved in weather forecasting are non-linear. He developed a 12-variable mathematical model of the way air moves around in the atmosphere and in 1961 ran it on a computer; when he used a 0.506127 value for the initial condition he obtained a particular forecast, but when he used an abbreviated 0.506 value he discovered that it led to a completely different weather scenario. This insight led to his 1963 paper, "Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow" in the "Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences," which became the foundation of chaos theory: "Two states differing by imperceptible amounts may eventually evolve into two considerably different states... If, then, there is any error whatever in observing the present state—and in any real system such errors seem inevitable—an acceptable prediction of an instantaneous state in the distant future may well be impossible.... In view of the inevitable inaccuracy and incompleteness of weather observations, precise very-long-range forecasting would seem to be nonexistent." By 1969. perhaps influenced by the Bradbury story, he developed "the butterfly effect" as a simple llustration: A small change in the initial condition of the system cascades to large-scale alterations of events; the flapping of a butterfly's wings may create tiny changes in the atmosphere that may alter the path of a tornado or delay, accelerate, or prevent the occurrence of a tornado in another location. "Although a butterfly flapping its wings has remained constant in the expression of this concept, the location of the butterfly, the consequences, and the location of the consequences have varied widely." When he was scheduled to address the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1972 but neglected to provide a title, Philip Merilees added one: "Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?"


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