March 11_Fibonacci poem

See Tupelo Press to read the poems for March 11, 2014 by scrolling down to “Day 11/Poems 11” and of course, to read my poem, If Today Were the Beginning / by John C. Mannone.

The backstory is as follows:

While casually thinking about today’s poem, “If Today Were the Beginning,” I asked myself if there is anything significant about today’s date, 3-11. That made me think of 9-11, but quickly abandoned any thoughts about writing one of those poems again. However, I was left with a feeling of death and destruction, which subconsciously, turned out to be an important clue for the theme of the yet-to-emerge poem.

The latent image of 3-11-14 in my mind’s eye (as I was driving down the road) roused a curiosity about the numbers themselves. Perhaps because I am a physicist, I immediately noticed that these three numbers form a Fibonacci string or sequence. The preceding two numbers are added to get the next number in the sequence. On the back of an envelope, I scribbled the numbers of such a series just for the fun of it (I suppose it was just a mental exercise to keep from getting senility): 3, 11, 14, 25, 39, 64, 103, 169, 272, 441, 713, 1154…

Since the first three numbers form today’s date, and I’m thinking day, month, year here (regardless of our writing convention), I simply gave meaning to the Fibonacci sequence as an extended date, each subsequent number corresponding to an increasing power of ten. For example, since 14 (year 2014) is our starting year, then 25, 39, 64 would correspond to 25 x 10 or 250 years from now, 39 x 100 or 3900 years from now, and 64 x1000 or 64,000 years from now, so by the time we arrive at the 9th term, it would correspond to 1154 x one billion, or a little over a trillion years from today (the approximate starting point of the poem, see below). But what triggered the poem was the number 441, which translates to about four and a half billion years in my little game. That struck a bingo-chord. 4.4 billion years is close enough to when our sun will run out of hydrogen at the core (as it burns hydrogen it produces helium). (The actual value is somewhere 4.5-5 billion years.) That’s when our yellow dwarf sun will yield to the crush of gravity, but the compression ignites thermonuclear fusion of helium, and bam!, our sun will become a red giant. Life on Earth will likely be compromised. So this is where the theme of death and destruction comes from that’s been resident in my subconscious since I first considered the date. And because I also lecture on astronomy and astrophysics, I naturally looked for astronomical catastrophes that could beset us throughout the ages.

But I didn’t want to write a “science/math poem,” I wanted something with literary depth. This will explain why I constructed the poem to move temporally backwards. Despite all the catastrophes that could be extinction level events in the future, the greatest threat to our survival is ourselves, which is our own self-destruction crouching at our door. And I suppose there are some Biblical overtones, but that is more my voice rather hinting at deeper subtext. However, post facto, it could be that, too.

To increase the poignancy of the ending, I introduce a little humor, satire and irony to take advantage of the contrast of light and serious tones.

Finally, though I was content with the verse breaks I had late last night, I played around with various verse structures in hopes to make the number of lines in subsequent verses follow a Fibonacci sequence. I settled on this sequence (counting the title): 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, which I repeated as necessary, adjusting the awkwardness of some breaks as I went along. The padding with repeated lines in the end, discovered in an earlier version, turns out to make the poem work better by the haunting echo at the end.

3 Responses to March 11_Fibonacci poem

  1. tlrelf says:

    I love know where poems come from. . .Can you really hold and play with all those numbers in your head? Wow!

    • LOL. I could only hold the first few in my head, but I could do the arithmetic in my head for all of them. Eventually, I had to scribble the sequence on paper so I could double check. The interesting thing about manipulating numbers in one’s head is that it is a great exercise for the brain. Until I got my latest car (2011 Chevy Impala which displays the numbers on the dash), I would always compute my mileage (to three significant figures) in my mind while driving. No, I could not visualize the long division, but I would use tricks (like the binomial expansion) to make the calculation easy.


  2. tlrelf says:

    As a now-rusty musician, I remember when instead of thinking, I had music playing in my head that I would manipulate. . .count out beats and numbers to a certain extent, which is why I’m drawn to the Fibonacci series, too. I used to know a local musician who composed with it. Interesting sounds. . .I like some lyrical poetry, but I tend to prefer to offbeat.

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