Thursday, October 22, 2009

How Many Drops? by Mark McGuire-Schwartz

How Many Drops?
for my father

How many drops of water
does it take to fill
Wanaque Reservoir? I bet you always
wanted to know. We can figure it out.
Let’s say it is fifteen miles in length.
Later we can use the odometer to check.
Or a map. Now we’ll project the width at one mile.
We assume, of course, a rectangle. By cutting
and re-assembling jagged edges, that is probably
pretty close. Most things irregular hide
a core of regularity underneath. We can guess
the depth. Again, we take an average, and soon
the volume is in our grasp. Length
times width times depth. Smoothing irregularities.
More or less. Now for the drop of water – that is easy.
We do not have to calculate that.
Already ours. I know its size.
Experiments have been conducted – some
by me – for a secret government project, to determine
the size of a water drop. Also its weight,
But that does not count here. And its shape,
Of course. Its content and luster are also known.
But, for our purpose, just the size. How many fit in a teaspoon? And then into a cup?
And convert – yes, convert – to cubic inches, and voila,
we are almost done. Soon you will have the answer that you seek. Six hundred billion,
seven hundred and fifty-eight million,
nine hundred and thirty thousand,
six hundred and forty-five. Point seven eight nine, but we’ll just round it
to point seven nine. Two decimal places should be enough.
And there’s your answer. Give or take
half a dozen. You have solved for X.
Depending, of course, on recent snow.

But tell me again about the water.
About the luster, about the sheen.
Can you see yourself reflected in each drop?
Or does that require an aggregate? If so
Can we calculate for that? And should we
Compensate for the displacement of fish? Or must
We remove the fish before calculating the depth?
And if Archimedes runs naked through the streets,
Will he find love? And will that love
Be purified and reflected and true?
Do the drops crystallize to predict our fate?
Is the density equal to that of our common blood?
When we solve for X, do we turn back time
And bring our future to meet our former
Past? How many deaths can one heart hold?

How many? You’d be surprised,
Not all deaths weigh the same, you know.
The heart can hold thousands of the tiny, and hundreds
Of the small, dozens of the medium weight.
But heavy deaths add up fast. In fact,
Some are supernovas. These cannot
Be held in one heart for any time at all.
These deaths act as quantum particles, and bounce
From ring to ring without ever existing in the space between.
How many deaths can a heart hold? First,
We must measure the weight.

© 2005 Mark McGuire-Schwartz
previously published in The Fairfield Review (Winter 2005)
and in a shortened version as "Reservoir" in 2007 Long River Run.

1) What first sparked this poem?
Honestly, I am not sure. What I remember is this: I took my wife’s car to get an oil change, and I walked across the road to have some lunch while I waited. It was about five months after my father had died. And I remember that, sitting alone in that small Chinese restaurant, I began to cry. There were no other customers eating at the restaurant, but one or two customers came in to pick up an order. At some point the sobbing stopped and the writing started. By the time I finished my meal and went to retrieve the car, the poem was done. (I do not remember what the fortune cookie said.)

2) Tell us about this poem's life.
The poem sat in the notebook for four months, and then I typed it up. I revised it about a week later and then about a month and a half after that. At some point I shared the poem with my family, including my siblings. I first read How Many Drops in public at Wednesday Night Poetry at the Bethel Arts Junction in September, 2004, a little less than one year after my father died.

The featured readers that night were Ed and Janet Granger-Happ, the editors of Fairfield Review, and they asked me to submit HMD. It was published in their Winter 2005 issue. A shortened version was published in the 2007 Long River Run, under the title Reservoir.

3) How long did it take to go from inspiration to published?
Around one year.

4) Are you satisfied with the poem?
My father actually did lead a discussion about how to calculate the volume of Wanaque Reservoir. I also remember him telling me the story of Archimedes. I am not sure I understood right away what physical principle Archimedes had figured out. But I knew that he was excited, jumped from tub, ran naked. My father saw a similar beauty and excitement in understanding how things work, and he passed that excitement to me.

A number of people have told me not only that they like this poem, but that they found it touching. As it is very personal poem, that is nice.

5) What in particular do you, the poet, like about this poem and why?
There are a number of lines and phrases here that I find pleasingly original. But that is really just technique, which, in the end, is just technique.

I’ve always liked a touch of poignancy in my literature, and what is more bittersweet than remembering a happy moment from a lost childhood?

My father was not a poet, but there is a lot of my father in me. I think some of it comes out in this poem.

Mark McGuire-Schwartz learned to speak in full sentences and to
express complex, subtle thought at the age of seven months.  However,
he still has not been known to do so. Mark is also part of WNPS.