The Bounce and Chaos
It’s great when the forces of the universe align to show us something: natural correspondences, the aurora borealis, how to tell time or measure distance by sun and shadow, how opposites attract, or, in this case, the remarkable similarity of two poems I read in close proximity to one another in time and in my stack of books! I’m surprised they did not spontaneously combust; they might have if their last lines had actually touched each other, and I have been known to lay books face down and open to the page I am reading, so it might have happened in a universe aligned with magical realism.
Here are the two poems, “The Attraction of Opposites,” by Donna Vorreyer, from her book, Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story, and “Introduction to Electromagnetics,” by Jeannine Hall Gailey, from her book, Field Guide to the End of the World.
The Attraction of Opposites
That night, mist gathered warm around
our young heads, a tandem crown of smoke.
We watched lizards climb the terrace wall,
silvery feet skittering them out of reach.
Down below, a siren howled warning as you
dropped the needle on some old forty-fives.
Blue tones, tangling us in a wistful web.
Despite the softness of the notes, the night,
the roll of the waves, the flow of my skirt,
you were all ticks and angles, pacing hard
and peeling the sunburned skin from your nose
until I kissed you into curves. Even then,
you wanted us to be exact, defined, but
we would never be so. We are balls of mercury,
the sudden flame on the head of a match.
Introduction to Electromagnetics
We are attracted to one another by fundamental forces
not completely understood; I will try to rescue a boy
with mother issues; you will threaten your girlfriend’s
abusive ex with a baseball bat in a dark alley.
Friction a power we underestimate; side by side,
we can’t help but be at odds. Unlike charges attract,
like ones repel. So we cling to the rapscallion
at the school dance, or the Hitchcock blonde
married to the man next door. We have not learned
to interpret what’s inside: the buzz, the chemical.
One atom shares its electron with another.
An impulse ripples through brain and muscle.
And so, a tower falls, a bomb explodes, we are all at war
with ourselves and each other. Surely there’s a reason
for the bounce and chaos between our particle natures?
A current we cannot resist electrifies the air between us,
fuses at our fingertips, ready to ignite.
Isn’t that amazing? Those last lines, both ready to flare up into flame?! Vorreyer’s “sudden flame on the head of a match” is a strong visual image, a scary touch image, and also a quick change from the slow yet elusive “balls of mercury,” so quick after the line break as indeed to flare up on the match head! It burns! Gailey’s “ready to ignite” is the moment before the flame and almost turns fingers into matchsticks and fingertips into bright red match heads.
In Vorreyer’s poem, we stay in the relationship. A couple listens to music indoors while lizards climb, waves roll, a siren howls outside. In Gailey’s, we start in a relationship and go out into the world—a world of war and rampant conflagration—and we, a “we” beyond the couple, we, in our innate selves and “particle natures,” are responsible for it.
Clearly, as we know from their book titles, both poets are interested in the idea of apocalypse and see the danger here at hand. And both poems respect the central theme that “[u]nlike charges attract, / like ones repel”—in the world, and in the world of love and relationship. There’s risk in this, but sometimes we can make it work. Basically, to survive as a species, and on the planet, as well as in a marriage or partnership, we have to make it work. Or we’ll go up in flames.
How interesting, if “like ones repel,” that we are so often at war in the world with the ones who differ from us in appearance, philosophy, politics, religion, and geography. And yet, if opposites attract, maybe diversity is exactly what we need to hold us together. If sameness leads to repulsion…it might be best to be a bit mercurial. Or, at least, hard to hold on to…
In both poems, I get the sense that a relationship with some push-and-pull, some unlikely compatibility, is going to survive. The poems share a fidelity to structure, as well. Vorreyer employs a regular three-line stanza, and Gailey sticks to her four-line stanza until the electromagnetic current sends out its tiny flare. Stanzas temporarily order the natural chaos revealed in the poems’ content. Line breaks and that extra line provide the “bounce.”
I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing these two poems side by side! There’s more to see at the links below…
—Kathleen Kirk, Poetry Editor at EIL
The Poetry of Roof Repair at EIL
(comparing poems by Sandy Longhorn and Jannett Highfill)
“The Attraction of Opposites” by Donna Vorreyer was first published in Labletter and is now part of Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story (Sundress, 2016).
“Introduction to Electromagnetics” by Jeannine Hall Gailey was first published in Mythic Delirium and is now part of Field Guide to the End of the World (Moon City Press, 2016).