Particle and Wave

Particle and Wave

by Benjamin Landry

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Are we alone? If so, Particle and Wave insists that we need not be lonely. Here the periodic table of elements—a system familiar to many of us from high school chemistry—unfolds in a series of unexpected meanings with connotations public, personal, and existential. Based on a logic that considers the atomic symbol an improvised phoneme, Particle and Wave is keenly attuned to the qualities of voice and concerned with how these improvisations fall on the listening ear. From the most recent housing bust, to the artistic visions of Christo and Jeanne Claude, to the labors of the Curies, to Pliny the Younger’s account of the eruption of Vesuvius, culture and world histories are recontextualized through the lens of personal experience. Muscular, precise, structurally varied, and imagistic, these poems engage in lyricism yet resist mere confession. In doing so they project the self as a composite, speaking in a variety of registers, from the nursery rhyme songster, to the ascetic devotee, to the unapologetic sensualist. They welcome all comers and elbow the bounded physical world to make way for a dynamic, new subjectivity.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226096223
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 03/20/2014
Series: Phoenix Poets
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 72
File size: 758 KB

About the Author

Benjamin Landry is a Meijer Post-MFA Fellow at the University of Michigan and the author of An Ocean Away. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Read an Excerpt

Particle and Wave



Copyright © 2014 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-09619-3


1 H 1.0079 [HYDROGEN]

Imagine the heat generated
by Daphne transformed into laurel
and you can begin to feel
what the electron feels
in renouncing its steady orbit.

The new body is a space
humming like a sacristy
or an autoclave,
its language both particle
and wavelength.

Daphne was, of course, an ordinary girl:
desires not especially volatile.
She, too, forgot her terror, nodded off
in the glow of a star appearing
to explode for billions of years.

The rest is medical history,
the 'H' off the interstate ramp.
How the wound of her new life healed.
How the heatshimmer shook
her vision afterward.

2 He 4.0026 [HELIUM]

Setter of things into motion.

fractional, what is your subsequent charm?

We divine your nature by experiment:

Dropped hod of clay = brief spark
= incipient tremor
= separation anxiety
= armistice

You work in a vacuum,
as signature wavelengths
on a spectrum

We track your movements
through phases,
the revolving door
of question
and question

August low-pressure system


raiment of the superheated,
non-flammable sort.

3 Li 6.941 [LITHIUM]

There from the beginning,
despite cave bears,
extinction events.

I sometimes take you for
that river of forgetfulness,
your effigy gone to Weehawken ...

or a fugue state crossing from one palm
to the next, as deaf mice
scuttle greyly in the subway bed.

You were here, I am certain of it,
visible on august 15, 2007, on Google Earth.
Your wide sunhat. You are jaywalking

and—I would guess—covering your ears
against construction noise
or ducking a noisome silence.

You are a shadow parting other shadows
as though to prove time were the one
collapsible dimension.

6 C 12.0107 [CARBON]

One finger's-worth
constitutes a marsh that stretches


with cattails and moccasins
and spiny perch
with fluttering gills,
the blood so close
it might be called upon

O, ready weep.
The drizzle of nomenclature
betrays no sign of letting up.

Fires stand in bones,
sequestered in the earth's

deep seams.

In the long list of nourishments,

still life
just these
possible selves
in the most unformulated form.

7 N 14.0067 [NITROGEN]


Sundown, and the reflection
erupts with hairtrigger mouths,

a frenzy of pumpkinseed,
a Technicolor snow
left on into the evening.

Each angstrom caught—
all scale, tooth and bone—made sod
or buried in the garden plot.

It wells up and runs down
in a hard rain.


a diver follows a pale flash
through milfoil blooms.

Could be a catfish barb
or pulled thread of the sainted.

More likely a drawstring, a beer can,
what's left of the drowned.

Someone keeps the engine running above
and scans the surface with binoculars.



perspiration gathers at the navel
and a high hawk turns.

Trees collapse
in their shade.

faint flutter:

a ragged blue tarp
washes up.

8 O 15.9994 [OXYGEN]


The sound from the culvert
was not nothing.

It might have been the sound
of soldier ants
clenching their mandibles
in their sleep, dreaming

of swaths of leaf
for the cutting. Or

stars, perhaps,
skritching across
night's chalkboard.


In other words,
invocation is not
a one-way street.


O need, you are afar.

Still, I would risk
making your distance near.


O culvert,
O soldier ant,
O mandible,
O dream.

The stars word you across,
practicing your names.

9 F 18.9984 [FLUORINE]

We started easy, then ratcheted up:
marshmallow chicks to Jonagolds.
Leaf, soil, snail, and later
the contents of a minibar.

Someone got up the notion to try a brick.
Ragged gums, cast-iron constitutions.
Through it all, we smiled:
child bridegrooms on our wedding day.

There was no getting out of it.
We were to be made permanent
when all we wanted was a little blood
and newness working through.

Instead: recurring adolescent dreams
lasting into our twilight. There was
something in the water, alright.

11 Na 22.9898 [SODIUM]

Truth serum elucidates:
the nature of nature
is a white whale. We think
we are the equal to it.

Someone calls out
a name at the party,
and you are instantly convinced
she has perished
in a burning building.

The word 'fate' is a shorthand.
Whatever it is, you have
a knack for it. For finding
the one lure that would
do you in in a whole ocean.

Leading up to disaster,
the captain's log reads:
Once, we were co-conspirators.
Now, the crew is simply
wet through, exhausted.

This was before photography,
which begs the question:

How does one remember
the beloved exactly
as she was, receding on a pier?

Maybe photography
became the crutch,
replacing a perfect
capacity for the image.

In any event, it is lost.

That name has no more power
on this earth.
We are telling the truth now.

12 Mg 24.3050 [MAGNESIUM]

The room to which you are led
has the aura of seizure, private illumination,
crawlspace behind a cameo or scrim.

The bitten bench. The lathe he leans
against. Tall posts for a canopy swing:
the slashing legs of a thoroughbred.

The last of three sets—which he plans
to give away to his youngest daughter
when she's married off—rests assembled,

disassembled, stashed
in the space between ceiling joists
where it will be discovered

by his wife's next husband, who will take the pieces
for good enough kindling—their splitting
dry deliciousness—and feed them to the stove.

Here, they'll sing an uncanny Agnus Dei
in sisterly harmonies. The sparks
winnowing out like midges.

The shore's continual suggestion.
Once a curved green piece arrived,
explained as a Japanese fishing net buoy.

Another ocean. Exactly that. Whitecaps
are furnaces, when you think of it.
The same crisp light, the same drizzling.

One sister gets to know the gone sister's
daughter. Thinking You remind me of you.
Light and shade come together in a dovetail.

The green glass thrown back
and a bench at the bottom of the stairs.
Someone else will have to pick the horses

from now on. Agnus Dei in green silks.
Or Dovetail, perhaps.

13 Al 26.9815 [ALUMINUM]

for John J.


I awoke this morning with a frog in my throat
a bell in the frog
a leaf in the bell.

I awoke this morning
with a bell
a leaf
and a frog in my throat,
although not in that order.

So, this is what it feels like
to be there at the start of something.

In on the ground floor
is how I would describe it
to my brother, who works
in the financial sector
a leaf you could burn
a bell you could melt
and a frog you could keep
in the steeple of your hands
or perhaps on your shoulder
like an epaulet—glinting as seen from space—because you goddamned
thought of it first.


The last time my brother and I were together,
we got drunk and watched For All Mankind.
He was dressed up to play Conspiracy Theorist:
"a roomful of calculators
and they landed on the moon?"
The foil panels were too perfect.
and was that wind ruffling the flag?

But I could only blink
at the veracity of it:
the bell-like module,
the scintillation of Gobi dust.
Urals like the ridges of an open mouth.
Static breaking through armstrong's voice.

14 Si 28.0855 [SILICON]

Early one morning,
the mother of Pliny the Younger
noticed a peculiar
column of cloud
hovering over the strand.

She woke her son
and then the neighbors.

Unsure what to do,
they huddled in the boathouse
while the chained dog
choked slowly on sulfur.

Ghosts full of advice
appeared among the villagers.

The mountain sloughed minerals,
altering the coast.

* * *

This morning, I felt
left behind,
swaddled in ash, unable
to place the call in the hemlocks.

I had just dreamt a woman
reclining on two lightly gritted elbows
and gazing out at the atlantic.
Carpel tunnel, vodka spritzers and her shitty job
were the continent behind her.

Your heart
in your ribs
is a fever risking

* * *

Pliny kept reading
while the ashes fell.

15 P 30.9738 [PHOSPHORUS]

The evening beyond each chain-lit match

seemed to crouch in the shapes of houses,
then rose to play havoc in a veil of dogwoods.

In among the lapses, deer stooped
on their stilts to eat the tulips

which, under these circumstances,
turned away from the source

like moths losing themselves in folded wool.

19 K 39.0983 [POTASSIUM]

Toward sodium, across a membrane, the molecular equivalent of desire. The living need is Ghost-in-the-Graveyard. I started to describe 'anemone,' but it was gone as soon as I had finished practicing the vowels.

Before you go tearing out of this parking lot, know that the fuses in your glovebox never did anything wrong. Quit laughing. Turn the radio station down. That is not a distant sandbag on sawhorses. It is a fawn wanting—dimly—to cross.

I can't recall the name of the village in western China, only the bronze faces gathered at the basketball court. Boys preening slick hair, girlfriends standing on the seats of their motorbikes for a better look. Bare arms. You expected a fight, not this hush as paper lanterns unfolded and rose on candlepower, uncommonly delicate designs on thin bamboo trusses.

22 Ti 47.867 [TITANIUM]

This is white nested inside a shell of white.

This is how you know the membrane
of the eye is wet, alive.

We are forbidden to watch
the full extent of the eclipse
except through a pinprick shade.

A crest moves across the surface of water,
although the water stays put. It breaks
against enamel between telephonic stutters.

A summons from the folding of a napkin,
our experience of this place through pigments:
rose conniption, silver laughter,
weal of not leaving.
Euphoric bursting of cells,
a marble with its body
opened like a Christ.

24 Cr 51.9961 [CHROMIUM]

Since day six, we have been
digging in with our tongues:

power tools studded with industrial diamond.

We set off a slick
under the Yellowstone
and then, for fun, turn stone
into yellowcake.

You hear that?

Those are the adoring

Examples of dominion
punctuate our waking hours:

1) We drive by
and the field of ethanol corn
experiences a frisson.

2) Gregory Peck
draws a bead
on a rabid dog.

3) Ecstatic technicians
carbon date
the brontosaurus bones.

We are the gods of our own time.
What we can't use, eat or revive,
we cryogenically freeze.

Some of us grow younger in space.
Some of us determine
whether an atom stays
together or falls apart.

Don't talk to us just now.
We are developing a work-around
for the ends of great loves.

27 Co 58.9332 [COBALT]

A sponge diver discovered
in 1982
a blue without precedence
in ingots crossing
from Egypt to Rhodes.

[defiant flapping of sail,
stationary wing in all that waste]

It had gone down
in the fourteenth Century, BCE,
along with a trove of falcon pendants

and resurfaced in a suburban garage sale,
in the guise of a decorative lamp
displayed on a door between sawhorses
at the corner of Hemlock and Jones Hollow.
Ennobled with dust,
small catastrophe, it stood out
among the Betamax tapes
and barbells of absurd increments.

... Or Best Offer, thought a packrat,
turning it in the light.

But it was a child
who finally put down his allowance money
just before the liver-colored clouds
let loose.

And so it was the little soul of blue within
collected him.

28 Ni 58.6934 [NICKEL]

Rosehipped subcutaneous
the sound after the rain
passes: its own thirsting
logic either satisfied
or stripped, all naked stems
or reason.

Be reasonable.
Be the intimate landscapes
we tried recreating
on a larger scale.
(Your triad ringing out
from a crumbling
bas relief.)
Be sublimated,
solid part of the air
we breathe.

We walked
in lowlands.
seemed like the future triggering
We sensed
it was early for rosehips
it was crumbling for the reason
it was stripped for satisfied sounding
all jewelweed rain and triggering
bas relief.

31 Ga 69.723 [GALLIUM]

When I have the heatnod,
speckled quince of noonday
sun through closed eyelids,

I think of the Gaul ebbing slowly,
seated on his shield
as though it were a picnic blanket,
and he deciding whether
to begin his meal with the carnyx,
the sword or the leather strap.

A loaf of bread. His bones
already a ribbon of honey
for wolves to lap.

33 As 74.9216 [ARSENIC]

The radio intones that

A) we have eliminated rinderpest
B) a number of mushroom hunters are mistaking
false morels for the genuine thing

My friend says you can tell the difference right away
when your lower half doesn't turn
into a bull's nethers.

Man as bull.
Bull as man.

But also:
flower as catastrophe,
minnow as exception,
slime mold as jealous light.

I intended to finish the bestiary,
but the cattle of Kenya
kept falling over
with the ache in the side.

And to think
we started off wanting
things to be
just as they appeared.

Pretty soon,
we noticed
the morel has a dusky cousin.

We grew irritable,
the room stifling
with the odor of hay.


Excerpted from Particle and Wave by BENJAMIN LANDRY. Copyright © 2014 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

H                                 [Hydrogen] He                               [Helium] Li                                 [Lithium] C                                  [Carbon] N                                 [Nitrogen] O                                 [Oxygen] F                                  [Fluorine] Na                               [Sodium] Mg                               [Magnesium] Al                                [Aluminum] Si                                 [Silicon] P                                  [Phosphorus] K                                 [Potassium] Ti                                 [Titanium] Cr                                [Chromium] Co                                [Cobalt] Ni                                [Nickel] Ga                               [Gallium] As                                [Arsenic] Br                                [Bromine] Rb                                [Rubidium] Sr                                 [Strontium] Tc                                [Technetium] Sn                                [Tin]     I                                   [Iodine] Ba                                [Barium] Ce                                [Cerium] Tm                               [Thulium] Hf                                [Hafnium] Au                               [Gold]  Bi                                 [Bismuth] Po                                [Polonium] At                                [Astatine] U                                 [Uranium] Cf                                [Californium] Lr                                 [Lawrencium] Db                               [Dubnium] Sg                                [Seaborgium] Hs                                [Hassium] Uuo                             [Ununoctium]

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