Inner Turmoil

Awake —
What are these quick shots of warmth,
Fractals of forests
That wind through my limbs?
Fragrance of olive and salt taste of skin,
Razz-tazz and clackety sound?
Figures and shapes slowly wheel past my view,
Villas and deserts, distorted faces,
Children, my children —

Distant, the pink moons of my feet.
What rules do they follow?
I think movement, they wondrously move,
Moons flutter and shake.
I probe the hills and the ruts of my face —
Now I grow large, now
I grow small, as the waves
Of sensation break over my shore.

There, a gnarled tree I remember,
A stone vessel, the curve of a hill.
What is the hour?
Some silence still sleeps
In my small sleeping room —
Is it end or beginning?

I take up my pen, dry for some years.

What should I write?
What should I think?


I knock on the door of the universe.
Here, this small villa, this table, this pen.
I ask the universe: What? and Why?
Now weakened, I must remake the world,

I knock on the door of the universe, asking:
What makes the light of the stars?
What makes the heat of my flesh?
What makes the tear shape of rain?

So much I’ve lost,
I have nothing
Except a fierce hunger
To fathom this world.
Naked, I knock on the door,
Wearing only my questions.

Great Newton, you hid in your rooms,
Outcast like me,
Careless of meals, stockings untied,
Drinker of rosewater, olive oil, beeswax —

You found the force
Between planets and sun,
Pattern of cosmic attraction,
Heard clearly the music of spheres.

You gauged the distance to stars
And the vast rooms of space,
Which were naught to the space of your mind.

You struck the door of the universe.
What raging night seized you
And screamed that the world
Must be number and rule?

This is the cosmos of time and of space,
And of light rays that travel twelve billion years,
And the whale-raptured sprawl of the galaxies.
But is this not also the cosmos of life,
That rare cluster of atoms and forms,
A few grains on the beach of nonlife?

One thousand questions, and each gives
An answer, which then forms a question.

The questions and answers will meld with each other
Like colors of light,
Like the light rays that once crossed the space
Of the cosmos
And rest now in the small warmth of a hand.

This is the world of the ticking of clocks,
Menses of women and tides
Of the moon. Orbits of planets,
The swing of the pendulum, spin of the earth,
Cycles of seasons.

I knock on the doors of the universe,
Asking: What makes the swirl
Of ghazali love songs?
And the parallel singing of loss?
And the choice to live life alone?


I surrender my calipers, rules, and clocks,
Microscopes, diodes, transistors,
Glass flasks. For how can I measure
The stroke of a passion? Or dissect a grief
With the digits of pi?


Thus, I stand naked, with nothing
Except a fierce hunger to fathom this world,
To embark on this road
Without length without breadth.
Song of Two World
Alan Lightman

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