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The Behavior of Matter

ISSUE:  Winter 1989
You’re late, they said, when she finally showed up.
So she told them all her excuses: the weather,
the detours, the shoes that didn’t fit.
She went on and on, through bells, classes and lunch.
Now you’re not tardy, they told her, you’re absent.
But it was all right. She was a girl of many nouns
and few verbs. Oh, not polished and smooth

like the crystals who’d been through the rock tumbler—
agate, moonstone, tiger eye, Amazonite, jade.
They’d rubbed against each other all week,
coarse grit replaced by ever-finer grains
until they emerged gleaming and slick.
The grinding it took, the current, the noise
day and night! But the ones that didn’t go through it
were dull with rough edges

and bad manners. Matter didn’t care.
One day she would grow up and marry a man like Energy,
her father. She stayed home and read in the Book of Matter
all kinds of good news: Metals combine! Surface tension
supports! Cold conducts, and at absolute zero,
all resistance is gone! Gravity still ruled the universe,
but as particles zoomed in from all angles,
the more they collided the more motion pushed out
against the final pull down. The irony of collapsing,
while getting charged up with heat and momentum—
what a recommendation for falling toward the nearest
deep center of things! But you know rocks:

sitting there is what they do best. She sat on the shelf,
used every week like all-purpose flour. Risen dough,
rich and flaky as piecrust. It had been through the mill.
How much more refined would it get? Fine white dust
packed in paper, it flies and settles and mixes in
when it’s kneaded, old stalk of wheat, Persephone
held underground, quietly fighting for its life.


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