Features, Poems

Bruce Bennett: “Listening to Physicists” and “The Constellations”

Editor’s note: The poet applies his prodigious wit to the theme of our most recent issue: science.

One of the earliest poems I remember writing—I might have been eight—began, “I do not like Infinity/For it does not make sense to me.” That may have set the tone for many of the poems I have written about science since then. It certainly seems to be a precursor of “Listening to Physicists” and “The Constellations.” But I don’t wish to be misunderstood (as I frequently am), or taken for a know-nothing.  I love reading—and writing—about such topics as the Expanding Universe and String Theory. I just don’t really know anything, and know I don’t, which I guess does make me a know-nothing of sorts, but one who is nonetheless eager to learn. I am a great amateur fan of Black Holes and the Big Bang. Years ago I published a poem called “Eternal Recurrence and the Big Bang” in Light Quarterly about the two biggest things I could think of. Here is the poem:

An accident waiting to happen
again

Of course, even I recognize that the notion of Eternal Recurrence isn’t exactly science.

This was all dramatically brought home to me recently at a dinner party where my wife goaded me into discussing my enthusiasm about the Higgs boson discovery with a genuine nuclear physicist. I realized before he had finished more than a few sentences that I was much better off sticking to poetry! (Bruce Bennett)

Listening to Physicists

The universe, they tell us now,
is not the universe. Somehow
it’s multiple. And they’re not done.
I wasn’t even used to one.

The Constellations

The constellations—see? A throne?
A crab? A goat? A hare?—
are not so clear when you’re alone.
It seems there’s nothing there

But stars and stars with no designs.
It takes an expert guide
to draw the non-existent lines
around what’s not inside.

Bruce Bennett is the author of nine books of poetry and more than twenty poetry chapbooks. His New and Selected Poems,  Navigating the Distances (Orchises Press), was cited by Booklist as “One of the Top Ten Poetry Books of 1999.” Poems of his have appeared recently or are forthcoming in 5 AM, Tar River Poetry, Measure, Fifth Wednesday Journal, The Healing Muse, Stone Canoe, and River Styx. He was awarded a Pushcart Prize for his villanelle, “The Thing’s Impossible,” which was published in the Fall 2011 issue of Ploughshares. He is Professor and Chair of English and Director of Creative Writing at Wells College.