Friday, February 6, 2015

Chiral: a Poetry Friday Fling with a Villanelle

When I fall in love with a word, I go a bit mad.  It happened this week, when I belatedly began a draft of a villanelle so I could hang with the Poetry Seven today.

I'd written a villanelle with this Gang of Poets once before, and was pleased with my fairly traditional take on a feast. This time, I aimed to write about the "fulcrum of the day" (i.e. noon) but I made the fatal error of Googling rhymes on the Internet.

Specifically, I had a non-repeating line that ended with spiral and needed help.  Lo and behold! The rhyme search turned up


On to Wikipedia, where, along with some impenetrable diagrams of molecules, I found THIS:

"Human hands are perhaps the most universally recognized example of chirality: the left hand is a non-superposable mirror image of the right hand; no matter how the two hands are oriented, it is impossible for all the major features of both hands to coincide." 

Well, COOL. Our hands, although we think of them in pairs (like rhymes), they are, in reality, unmatchable. What a fitting subject for the villanelle, a poetic form built around the fiction that things can always be manipulated so they will line up, just so.

The only teeny problem with this lovely word, chiral, was that I could name but one other rhyme for it off the top of my head. (Besides spiral.)  Did that stop me? Did that stop me from making it the REPEATING LINE?

No, it made me fling myself further into the Internet to see what other unmatchable words were out there.

 See? MAD.

In truth, though, I've always been this way.

I admire other approaches to poetry, of course--  I adore a well-tempered line turn, a gorgeously formal word choice, an exquisitely correct rhyme---I really do.  I just don't know how to write that way.

To me, poetry is an excuse to play with words as hard as I possibly can.  A way to be madly in love with world, one cool fact at a time. A chance to gyre and gimble over the fundamental strangeness of my own hands.

My poetry sisters all know this, of course. What a veneration of villanelles they've made:  Tanita, Liz, Laura, Andi, Kelly, and Tricia.

No Matter

Our hands, no matter how we rotate them, are chiral
did you know that? they’re mirror images that never meet
Look at them! Look at them now! Don’t listen as I birle

(to cause a floating log to revolve by treading); I spiral
on the surface of the Inter-bog, layered rich as peat;
But my hands, no matter how I rotate them, are chiral

How did I find these facts? I was seeking rhymes more viral,
to conflagrate—OMG—there is such a thing as gleet?
Look at your hands! Look at them now! Don’t listen as I birle!

I blame Ogden Nash, who could precisely match eye roll
-ing end rhymes; no unruly corners on his fitted sheet!
Yet, my hands, no matter how I rotate them, are chiral

It’s like trying to tame the Jabberwock, most gyre-ral
but he’s one-off; no need for gamete to mate gamete
Look at your hands! Look at those doozies! Don’t listen as I birle!

But if you must Google these words, seek out too: gyral
(relating to the convolutions of the brain); how meet!
Yet, hands, no matter how we rotate them, are chiral;
Look at them! Look at them now! Don’t listen. I birle!

---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Liz at Elizabeth Steinglass.