And now, for something completely different.
In honor of Emily Dickinson’s birthday (she would be 182 years old today), I offer a poem from a few years ago that got an honorable mention in a contest and was published in Two Rivers Review, which I don’t think exists any more.
No doubt she understood more about physics than I do. But when I read that “not physics for poets” crack in that book review, I took it as a challenge.
Physics for Poets, Chapter 1: Entropy
“Physics is hard. Commendably, Piel does not reduce
the subject to metaphor; this is not physics for poets.”
— Washington Post book review
German scientist Rudolf Clausius coined
the word in 1865. He took
en- for contents, -trop- for transformation,
meaning “contents that have been transformed.”
He thought the meaning would always be the same.
The second law of thermodynamics says
heat can’t transfer from a colder body
to a warmer one. Emily Dickinson,
having read true poetry, felt so cold
no fire could warm her. The poem took
the top of her head off, where her heat escaped.
But she could pour her heat into her poems,
which in turn can suck heat from her readers
and leave them with that absolute zero feeling,
so maybe that’s not a good example.
To understand entropy, think of teens.
Thermodynamically, entropy also means
measuring the amount of thermal energy
that’s not available to do work. A teenager,
a lump in the bed late on Saturday morning
unable to help carry the groceries in.
In information theory, entropy means
“A measure of the loss of information
in a transmitted message.” A group of kids
play the gossip game around the table.
It starts “Mr. Shafer has hair in his ears”
and ends “Missed a shave and now heresy nears.”
Entropy is how much truth got lost.
Disorder or randomness in a closed system
is another meaning. The rest of the house
gets regular airing and frequent traffic,
but all are forbidden to enter the teenager’s room.
the floor is obscured with clothes – who can say
Whether they’re dirty or clean? Yet the CDs
are neatly filed in alphabetical order.
Mainly it means what most of us think it means,
“the smashing down of our world by random forces
that don’t reverse.” The universe winding down
like an old-fashioned wristwatch. Energy lost
that can never be regained. A teen’s first car,
beautiful in the sun, until she sees
a dent on the driver’s door that wasn’t there
yesterday. It will never be the same.