July 4, 2011

Ray Emanuel

4% OF EVERYTHING OR NOTHING

On the seat of the Humvee, I find this magazine
with an article on dark energy and
I think it will be nice to kill some time as I am
moving in a line of 5 tons and tankers,
across an endless sea of red dirt.

The physicists make it too easy
74% dark energy
22% dark matter
96% of the universe unknown,
possibly unknowable
just out there somewhere—
but right here all around us too
as gossamer as ghosts.

That leaves 4%—
4%, all the stuff we struggle trying to know
something about but know hardly anything about.
And they say all this darkness may be growing
and the little we barely know is growing smaller
and smaller. Damn scientists.
One can almost hear them snickering,
knowing how the damn romantics will be inclined
to read more into the tea leaves of their data
than can ever be there.
But if they are honest, they know they can’t resist
the temptation themselves, 4% hardly known;
96% unknown and possibly unknowable—
dark energy pushing things apart, pushing whole worlds
farther and farther apart at faster and faster speeds,
no respect for even light.
Farther and farther apart, colder and colder
into the nothing that is everything.

I am inclined to think that there is no data;
that this theory comes from their own personal miseries:
the divorces, their kids on drugs and resenting them,
the latest heartbreak, every reminder of old age and mortality,
the reasons the grant didn’t get funded—
96% unknown and possibly unknowable
4% barely known.

Or it may just be science taking another cynical turn
reminding everyone not to be so smug,
not to be so sure of anything,
not to ever underestimate your ignorance,
or your unfathomable smallness in the scheme of things.

But I have that disturbing resonance of a romantic’s heart,
the irresistible urge to generalize, a pretending to know:
all of human history—a 4% of distorted recollections,
96% unknown and possibly unknowable;
the universe of love—a 4% desperately grasped
but the 96% still and always unknowable;
my life, my memories, my only true universe,
I am barely aware of 4%,
the 96% unknown and possibly unknowable;
this moment, the infinite now, I barely see
4% of anything and…

Suddenly none of this sounds new.
And of course, possibly there is no connection between any of it.
Perhaps, the dark energy has already pushed things so far apart
that nothing can ever be connected again.
There can only be zeros and ones, tentative conclusions
that are neither dark nor light, simply there drifting
farther and farther from every other idea and feeling
faster and faster from every hope and fear,
everything transforming into a cold dark unknown
surrounding us like spirits.
Maybe, there is no message here at all, just
4% and decreasing every moment, 96% and increasing
every moment, unknown and possibly unknowable.

The helicopter gunships are flying
like crazed giant wasps above us.
I imagine ancient armies crossing this dust,
ancient conquests, the empires as forgotten
as the battles fought for them.
The 4% now is only this Humvee in an ocean of nothing,
my three traveling companions in their Kevlar
and interceptor jackets locked in silence
by the steady drone of the engine.
We are it, trying to make it to another point—
all the love there is,
as simple as a thin black line
scratched across a red tablet,
as simple as thinking of home,
that something we can believe we know,
the 4% of everything and nothing.

from Rattle #34, Winter 2010
Tribute to Mental Health Workers