Time, Death and Science / Joshua Alan Sturgill
Whatever I happen to be studying usually makes its way into a poem. Sometimes new information is stated rather bluntly. From After a Painter’s Death:
They call it
The Late Heavy Bombardment when ice
the size of continents cratered
the surface of the Moon
This bit of scientific nomenclature is borrowed almost directly from a text on astronomy. But I happened to be reading that text while still recovering from the unexpected death of a dear friend. So the aeons-old event of the cratering of the moon came to my mind as an image of terrible loneliness and suffering. Since I tend, child-like, to personify the objects around me, I couldn’t help but consider that the Moon—her round shape and varicolored patterning—were the product of something like a lonely, isolated death and a luminous resurrection.
In a less direct way, the poem I Am Old So Soon also borrows some scientific references for its number list: in youthful instants 29, 47, 79, 82.
These numbers are possible ages of a human life, and are also the atomic numbers of Copper, Silver, Gold and Lead; which are, respectively, the metals anciently associated with the planets Venus, Moon, Sun and Saturn. Since ideas of time, space and “becoming” underlie this poem, I was thinking both of stages of human development and of the environment (elements, planets) in which development happens. It isn’t necessary for a reader to know all the symbols, but my writing tends to be prompted by and to grow along symbolic imagery more or less obvious. Numbers are one symbolic language among many, and I think they can be used to great effect in a poetic context. For our ancestors, and for adherents of traditional faiths, the whole universe is a Scroll composed of interpenetrating symbols—a hierarchy of conversation. Numbers have always played a significant role in interpreting and communicating hierarchy.
What does it mean to be born, to age and die among the stars, among the trees, among the gods? This is a constant, though not always deliberate, preoccupation of my poetry. And I find answers or suggestions of answers to this question everywhere—from mathematics and science books to stained glass and acorns.