Galactic Dynamics

So long as inertia’s great flywheel holds all in place
why complain about the weather? Let it teach us
to vary, repeat ourselves, defy prediction.
At least we’re here. “Cheer,” calls the red-winged blackbird.

That call and one song are all it needs.
A better example might be the selfless moon
who climbs and sinks over the night-charmed earth,
horizons separating, entering each other.

Selves, bodies, wisdoms working together, wet
with complexity, weak and strong forces
constellated in us, what do you say?
Never stop

is all we know. One law
grinds our bones, another licks our pleasure
until it swells and flowers
into the future. Love what you have.

Questions and Answers

What inspired “Galactic Dynamics”?

“Galactic Dynamics:” I got the title from the title of a university textbook I saw a student using. I suppose it was about astrophysics or some such thing. But I loved the sound of the phrase. The poem came from a vague idea I had, about what we could learn from the natural world around us, how it operated, what laws governed it, that could teach us how to get along in the world, how to be human.

What poetic techniques did you use in “Galactic Dynamics”?

I’ve been writing so long that the poetic techniques I use come to me without giving them much conscious thought at all. It’s like playing hockey: after you’ve played for a while, you don’t have to think about when to pass the puck: you just know, and you do it. You’ve made that knowledge, that technique, a part of you. In “Galactic Dynamics” I use internal rhyme in line 4: we’re, here, cheer. In “Person of Snow” I use the line endings to control the speed you read at: the second line ends in the middle of a phrase, so your eye hurries on to see what “those” will refer to in the next line; line six ends with the end of a sentence, very final, very emphatic. In “Bedford Social” I use end rhyme in lines three and four, as well as a five beats to each line, to give them a satisfying regularity and solidity. You can see this tactic in Robert Frost’s masterpiece, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” where he also uses another technique which I find very important to remember: use short words. The whole poem becomes much more powerful if you use as many short simple words as possible. A poem is a machine made of words, and its purpose is to carry emotion. Emotion is carried much better by short words than by long ones. Which sounds better: “The person who is addressing you has formed a deep emotional attachment to you,” or “I love you?”

This poem “Galactic Dynamics” originally appeared in Canadian Literature 188 (Spring 2006): 62-62.

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