american_penasco_blancoTen Thousand to One by Arthur Sze is another one of those poems I come back to over and over, for a lot of reasons I am aware of and most likely others I’m not. I know I return to the poem with the hope of absorbing some of its craft just by the rereading it. I also return for the sensual memory evoked, (now as as someone now living in a tropical island out in the Pacific) of the western mountains, with his depiction of a red-tail hawk drifting over spruce. I also return to what I want to address here, the comfort as well as the science of the universal patterns evoked across seemingly disparate objects as exemplified in this stanza:

Search the summer sky for
           an Anasazi turkey
see algae under an electron
resemble a Magellanic Cloud.
– From Ten Thousand to One by A. Sze

I will start with the science first, and return to why it might be comforting to me later. In all three objects, the poem seems to ask us to look closely, from the constellations to microscopic level of algae  to the constellations again. This look as constellations references two different cultures, one ancient one modern, one evoking indigenous astronomy and the other of European colonial exploration of the “new ” worlds. crabnebula
The ancient Anasazi peoples who inhabited the rock- cliff dwellings of the American Southwest were recognized as keen astronomers, who documented solar events such asCrab Nebula NASA

the supernova which created the Crab Nebula in 1054 A.D  .   They also were known to develop solar observatories and some have speculated that their rock paintings correlated with the constellations of the northern sky. In the Southern Hemisphere, the Magellanic Clouds are other nebula hovering around the Milky Way.


Magellanic Clouds over the Patagonia Andes – National Geographic


Nebula refer to the clouds of gas and dust in outer space, but can also refer to spots on the eyes that cloud our vision.



On the level of the microscopic, the repetition of algae, and its spiraling shapes and patterns, seems to mimic the cosmos.

Where is the comfort in all this? How does the search for the meaning of life differ from the search for patterns that are universal. Maybe its also the thought of the vastness of the universe, the 10,000 things of Buddhist philosophy, of which we are a part but as humans continually separate ourselves. This ancient and universal desire to observe the cosmos whether in space or on a microscopic level is a human commonality shared by both scientists and poets, or just us as human beings.