Archive for October, 2008

Six of Clubs: Hydrogen Gas

Just over twelve hours to write something. I should have started sooner. I’ll start by reading the section on short short stories in Susan Tiberghian’s book, because it’s about time I wrote some prose. She says, ‘A story, be it short or book length, creates a dream in the reader’s mind.’ Can I create a universe in your head in twelve hours? How much of the real universe had been created after twelve hours? It didn’t take much more than seventeen minutes for the newly created protons and neutrons to band together into light nuclei.

Things go a little slower now, but perhaps I can do something similar in the time I have. First, I need some protons to start from. That’s easy. Take three random cards from my pile of sixes of clubs. With any luck, they’ll be different enough that merely finding a link between them will give me an entire story, but not so different that I can’t find a link. Three quarks to form a proton or neutron, two the same, one different.

An ordinary six of clubs. Why do the boring cards always come up when I do this? A close-up of a black spotted cow in Holland. Well, cows eat clovers. Spreading phlox in Canada. Sounds like something made up by Dr. Seuss. Too similar. Do the phlox and clovers vie for the cow’s attention? Can I write an interesting story about a perfectly ordinary cow eating clovers? Susan quotes Eunice Scarfe as saying, ‘If we have lived, we each have a story.’ What is the cow’s story? Perhaps the letter of the week can help me. H, from the Semitic letter ח. According to wikipedia, the form of the letter probably stood for a fence or posts. There are none, in the field where this Dutch cow lived.

Green clovers and phlox

I do not like this spreading phlox,
I would not like it with an ox.
I’d rather risk a mad cowpox,
by joining all the other stocks
and munching on a tasty clover,
but alas I can’t get over,
Thank goodness I’ve a bale of stover,
some for me and some left over.

No, this isn’t going anywhere. I quite like the CERN card this week though: formation of nuclei, or nucleosynthesis: Temperature is low enough to allow protons and neutrons to combine to form nuclei (deuterium, helium, lithium) Conditions similar to interior of stars. It could be an analogy for so many things.

Nuclear Bonds

At first, I was friends with everyone. Any kid who would play with me for five minutes was my friend for five minutes, maybe six. Later on, they tired of bouncing between playmates, and formed more lasting friendships. I flew through them alone, at times kicked here and there by their repulsion, at times accepted temporarily into a more neutral group. Finally I collided with another lone spark, and we bonded.

Not bad, I guess. But I don’t know how long I could continue it. What’s the letter of the week again? Ah… H is for hydrogen, which has the lightest nucleus of all, a single proton, which would have existed even before nucleosynthesis started. What can I say about hydrogen? I may not have much of a story, but I have the best title ever.

Big Bang Nucleosynaesthesia

Hydrogen’s green,
Helium too.
I didn’t know how,
but somehow I knew.

I used to think hydrogen was green. The letter H was as green as they come, and I didn’t know where else I would have got that association from.

My family had several old cars, often referred to as ‘old bombs’. One was exactly the colour of H, and I was burning to make a joke about it being an H-bomb. I always stopped just short of saying anything, because I couldn’t figure out what made H green. Was hydrogen green? It ought to be. Eventually, the frustration of not being able to tell this joke got to me, and I asked my dad whether hydrogen was green. It wasn’t.

Some time later, I gathered the courage to ask him whether the letter H was green. I don’t remember what colour he said it was, but it was not green. He said that perhaps the colours we associated with numbers and letters came from fridge magnets or alphabet books we had as children. A is for apple, so maybe that’s why it was red. Only, it’s more of a pinkish red.

When I was a teenager, I heard about something called synaesthesia, where people could taste colours, see sounds, and all sorts of other weird and wonderful combinations. How strange it must be to see a red apple and taste
a steak and cheese pie. How amazing it must be to see an entire symphony laid out like an intricately knotted carpet. How enlightening it must be to feel a graph tingling on the back of the neck, and linking intuitively with other information like a massage from a well-trained masseuse.

Synaesthetes were real-world superheroes, until I found out I was one. A few years ago I read about something called grapheme-colour synaesthesia, which means that people automatically associate letters and numbers with colours. Like all kinds of synaesthesia, it runs in families. Different people have different colours for each letter and number, although ‘A’ is quite frequently reported to be red. It does not seem to depend on the fridge magnets the synaesthetes were exposed to. Nor does it reveal any deep truths about the universe outside my head. On the other hand, people are talking a lot about hydrogen as a green alternative to fossil fuels these days…

Perhaps this idea would just about cut it. Perhaps not. The H fridge magnet which I’ll have to use to illustrate it is an incongruous red. An H in disguise; it took me a while to find.

Sunset. The faintly fading photons remind me that it’s time to fuse all these proto-ideas into the nucleus of a story. Perhaps if I force myself to write them, a link will reveal itself. But they stubbornly stay separate, isolated and inadequate. Perhaps that’s how it should be. Most of the universe today is made of hydrogen, those lone protons which slipped through the nucleosynthesis stage unaffected. I just need to embellish them with electrons, and send them electronically across the globe.

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Seven of Clubs: Butterfly Fish

A flutter of butterflies flies,
aflutter in sumptuous skies
dancing between rise and fall
forming a quivering rainbow. Still,
nothing in comparison:
With the group, a fish
denies its uniqueness,
flying naturally above the waves.
One being, tracing a humble miracle
across the eclipsed kaleidoscope.

Through the rippling looking glass,
searching for a home,
a school of fish flits fleetly,
fostering a misplaced wish:
One butterfly amongst them all
is lost, a great frenzied flutter
in water makes no difference.
To the others it is much easier
to follow the flow
through the ocean. They pass

through the rippling looking glass,
searching for a home.
A school of fish flits fleetly,
fostering a misplaced wish:
Nothing in comparison
with the group, a fish
in water, makes no difference
to the others. It is much easier
to follow the flow.
Through the ocean they pass.

A flutter of butterflies flies,
aflutter in sumptuous skies.
dancing between rise and fall
forming a quivering rainbow still.
One butterfly amongst them all
is lost. A great frenzied flutter
denies its uniqueness,
flying naturally above the waves,
one being, tracing a humble miracle
across the eclipsed kaleidoscope.

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Eight of Clubs: A Match Made in Heaven

Come have a char with me, my dear,
Let’s turn the night to day
Swing with me from the chandelier,
I’ll have my wicked way.

It will be quite a scandal
if the two of us attach
for I am but a candle,
and you’re the perfect match.

But if I’m panegyrical,
then all I say is true.
I can’t help waxing lyrical,
can’t hold myself to you.

You lit my life up when you came.
I’m burning with desire.
But you’re still hot for your old flame
that flickers in the fire.

You’re blinded by your hearth of stone
to pain that you inflict.
I’m ditched, to gutter all alone;
there’s no peace for the wicked.

But noone said that life was fair
the winds of fate blow free;
if love and cold are in the air
then you’ll go out with me.

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Nine of Clubs: Grand Unification

Note: I wrote this with the tune and sentiment of Tom Smith‘s A Boy and his Frog (mp3) in my head. If you know the tune, please imagine that this poem is sung to the same tune as whichever verses it fits.

You might think that we’re just doing science
With a hadron collider so large.
But we’ve built this electric alliance
to give weight to our positive charge.

Take researchers from every nation,
Let the humans within them collide.
We will find the grand unification
when we see we’re all on the same side.

And with ev’ry race, tongue and religion
we’ll find how to give all the world mass.
If we’d all interact just a smidgen
with the openness through which we pass

we’d see life’s ups and downs become charming and strange,
when we face them head on, and what’s more,
seeking beauty and truth we can make a big change
with small change from the purses of war.

Take the light at the end of the tunnel,
and ensure it goes all the way round,
to illuminate more than the sun’ll,
and enlighten with what we have found:

When you’ve unresolved matters, and not enough kin,
and face too many forces to name,
if you cut out the din, and put energy in,
it turns out that we’re all just the same.

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