Philip Rösel Baker

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Philip Rösel Baker

H2O was selected for MSUL’s themed call for work about Water, in coordination with the MSU Broad Art Museum’s fall 2023 exhibition, Flint is Family in Three Acts, featuring the photography of Latoya Ruby Frazier.

Condensed boredom,
making random runs and random stops 
down the drizzle-fogged school lab window pane.
Chemical formulae - the elements of tedium,
attempting to tattoo themselves into my brain.
But that was the way most teachers taught
in those days.
But then the moment came, 
when I realised the raindrops consisted of molecules
Suddenly I could see them, glistening like jewels,
jostling, translucent, mercurial,
rolling and tumbling like malleable marbles
through the murky lead pipe-work of routine school,
to burst rumbustiously out of the tap,
slapping and bubbling the light of day,
like twelve year old boys pouring into the playground,
set free by the bell to break up on the tarmac,
to cluster, pooling, separating, settling
to find equilibrium - well, at least 
for a while.
Transparent grapes, 
a trinity of secret pips - the magic shape
of the atom tetrahedron. Two of hydrogen, one of oxygen. 
Why this should be, or whether there might be more
to atoms, remained beyond my reach.
The chemistry teaching of the day
did not encourage questions.
Much later,
I discovered the atom was a Russian doll, a haze 
of electrons concealed inside, evasive as agents 
pretending to ignore the fact they were being tailed, 
casually blending into the crowd, easily foiling surveillance,
assisting the nucleus to pass itself off 
as the innermost doll.
Till outed, that is.
Till shown to be harbouring protons, neutrons
each one a doll in its own sweet right. And with plenty of space 
between them. My water molecule, it seemed,
was not as fat with liquid matter as I'd previously
been led to believe. Inside, it was laced with emptiness
Even protons, neutrons, could be prised and pulled apart
to reveal in the very smallest doll - a sea
of quarks. Quarks and anti-quarks
and gluons jumping into being from the total dark of nothingness
and vanishing, as if they'd never been. A tiny doll with, at its heart
an ocean.
Turbulence strong enough
for time to spool both ways. An ocean, confined
by forces ten times those that bind
a neutron star. And yet 
uncertainty rules, at the heart
of matter.
The words on this page
can be broken apart into droplets of ink,
aqua and pigments combined into molecules,
each a matryoshka we unpack now easily
all the way down to the quantum.
But this does nothing to lead us back 
from particles to human meaning.
Does nothing to explain how the words emerged
in the writer's mind, why they were written
or where they might be leading the reader. 
We have so far to go.
Does almost nothing to explain the relational
deeply vibrational moment of experiencing 
a waterfall.
Visible thunder, self-transforming
shouldering air aside to leap 
abandoned, suicidal, from the roaring limestone lip.
Eating the walls of the gorge that holds it.
Sheeting spray sideways like hard-gusted snow.
A piston repeating, blow, on blow,
where a rock blocks the flow, like a woman's fists beating 
on her man's stubborn chest,
demanding understanding, testing his resolve.
Striking the place she'd caressed only hours before.
Raw spirit, bursting, spouting, cursing,
pile-driving over and over the same spot,
as if each blow was the first.
Downstream, passion spent,
unhiding what was really meant, to curl in whirlpools
round a boulder, she shrugs a glossy shoulder, where 
the sunlight flashes on a wave, as if she forgave him at the bend, 
where the trees let leaves trail in the water. 
Leaves trailing like regret. 
The river deepens, mirrors clouds, allows 
emerald streaks to shine up, gesturing, seeking speech.
Silent signing through the glide of whorled fisheye eddies,
reaching out downstream, like love
reaches from our anchored bodies. We
have so far to go.
But then, we ourselves
are more than half

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