“There is no chance that we will fall apart”
Continuations of love: June Jordan, Thich Nhat Hanh, and bell hooks
A tiny June Jordan poem has been running through my head over the past few weeks. It often comes to me when I’m walking through our wintery neighborhood: crunching the thick, light snow—there is no chance—the sandy, salty sidewalks—that we will fall apart—gingerly across icy patches—there is no chance—and back in our warm home—there are no parts.
There is no chance that we will fall apart There is no chance There are no parts.
This very short poem that I have been walking with has a very long title: “Poem Number Two on Bell’s Theorem, or The New Physicality of Long Distance Love.” Jordan, the late Black, queer, feminist poet and activist, is, I think, one of the most important American poets of the 20th century, but she’s been consistently overlooked and dismissed for her politics, her Blackness, her queerness.
When I first heard this poem, I was delighted by how much it packed into just 17 words, how each line was a new twist, a deeper level. Metaphysics, quantum physics, love, and community—it’s all here in these three lines.
I looked up Bell’s Theorem as I was preparing to write this post. I won’t pretend that I understood all of what I read, but I gather that Bell’s Theorem is a set of quantum theories about how, when two atoms are “entangled,” they will affect each other instantly, no matter how far away they are. Einstein called it “spooky action at a distance.” The dearly beloved and recently passed Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh might have called it “interbeing.” June Jordan wrote, “there are no parts.”
Bell’s Theorem seems upsetting to some scientists because it implies/proves that the word is not as logical and orderly as they believe it is. It points to a universe that is, in the words of one MIT professor, “inescapably…bizarre”
But what is unsettling to some scientists feels resoundingly true for me and the way I experience the world: wondrous, surprising, and full of mysterious connections. There are no parts. We—humans, ducks, bears, mice, seals, herons, rivers, roses, stones, mountains, snow, rain, seeds, weeds, all of us—we are all interconnected. And we cannot fall apart because we are of the whole, always part of the whole. We are made of the stuff of stars; we are the galaxy.
I find this idea of entanglement and interconnection immensely comforting in this moment when it feels like so much is falling apart around and inside us.
There is no chance that we will fall apart. There is no chance, there are no parts.
If we are all of a whole, then that must mean we are moving toward societal dissolution together.
It’s hard to feel that most days. I find myself firmly on one side—the far left side—of pretty much all political and social divides. So it’s extremely challenging to me to think that I am of a whole with, say the Arkansas parents who find my and other queer and BIPOC women’s poems obscene and want them banned from their local library. But what if I am able to stretch myself—my ego, my imagination, my love—to find where and how I am part of them and they are part of me?
Sometimes things have to lose their shape for a new shape to emerge: the same stuff of the galaxy reconfigured in new ways. I am thinking here of this amazing video of an octopus dancing a beautiful, magical, morphing dance. How wondrously and gracefully this creature transforms.
On land, in human society, the moment of societal transformation I am experiencing feels something like the opposite of that. It feels violent, terrifying, burning, like walking through fire. Yet in this fiery pain, I believe we are being transformed. I don’t know what that transformation holds, but I hope we will emerge knowing the truth of our connection more deeply. To understand that we are a continuation, as Thich Naht Hanh says. To know we have always been here, connected.
There is no chance that we will fall apart.
There is no chance. Here’s the other piece of Jordan’s poem, perhaps referencing the “free-will loophole” of Bell’s Theorem, which I won’t try to summarize here except to say the loophole was closed in 2018, “proving,” I guess, that there is free will. I read this line not so much to mean that everything is predetermined, but rather that everything we do matters. Because we are of a whole, all our thoughts, actions, and emotions have consequences—material or energetic. Perhaps it’s as tiny as a shiver of a breeze across a spider web, or as great as a tsunami rising out of the ocean.
I don’t think most of us, maybe any of us, can ever know what all of those effects are: who and what we affect, who and what affects us. But I find enormous comfort when I can think of myself not as an isolated being thinking my very own thoughts, carrying out my own limited actions, living in discreet body with clear boundaries between me and not me—but rather as a being who is affected by the wind and the rain, by someone’s anger and someone’s joy, who takes actions that are the culmination of lifetimes of decisions and actions of others, whose body is kept healthy and well by billions of microbes on my skin and in my guts who blur the distinction between me and not me. From this perspective, whether or not there is chance, is, in a way, meaningless. We are all connected, we all affect each other, we are all in this together.
You might not find this comforting, but for me, it helps me worry less about all the things I cannot control. It helps me focus on all the ways I can think of to take action, think thoughts, listen and relate to others (human and more than human), and feel emotions that I think will send out positive ripple effects. Which doesn’t mean bypassing hard emotions, negative thoughts, or difficult dynamics. It means being in them and working through them, healing and integrating them so I am more aware, more compassionate, more able to be vulnerable.
On the Lunar New Year, just weeks after Hanh’s passing, Plum Village, the monastery and practice center he founded, offered “parallel verses” for the coming year, as they do every year. This year’s couplet is: “Harmony at home. Peace all around.”
Ripple effect: when I can find a moment of harmony inside myself, I find also the peace that is waiting outside of myself.
Which, finally, makes me think about a beautiful conversation between Black feminist writer bell hooks and Hanh about love in the context of community. (This interview made the rounds on social media after hooks’ and Hanh’s deaths, within weeks of each other.) Decades ago, hooks’ new visions, all about love shaped my understanding of love as action. And in this 2017 conversation with Hanh, she says:
I think that we best realize love in community. This is something I have had to work with myself, because the intellectual tradition of the West is very individualistic. It’s not community-based. The intellectual is often thought of as a person who is alone and cut off from the world. So I have had to practice being willing to leave the space of my study to be in community, to work in community, and to be changed by community.
Hahn agrees, speaking of community as a place to practice love, to be reminded of what love-as-action can be. And he links community to self love: “Because loving ourselves means loving our community...Anything you do for yourself you do for the society at the same time.”
In other words, the loving actions I can take toward finding “harmony at home” becomes part of creating “peace all around.” Perhaps this is how we can shift and morph more gracefully, more like that octopus. Perhaps each loving action I take is part of the pulsing whole of this universe as we travel into new iterations of ourselves.
There is no chance that we will fall apart There is no chance There are no parts.
A writing prompt, inspired by Kayhan Irani
You’ll need a piece of paper that you can crumple up for this one.
Perhaps you begin by sitting for a few minutes and meditating on “Harmony at home, peace all around.”
Think of a time you felt deep connection to another being: a parent, a pet, a lover, a stranger, a tree, a bird—whatever comes to mind. Make a list of 3 tactile, sense-based details of that moment. What did you smell? What textures were under your feet or hands? Was there wind on your skin? Sun? What did you hear? Was there a taste to this moment?
Think of a specific time when you felt disconnected, lonely, or at a loss. Make a list of 3 objects (nouns) that were present in that moment, or that you feel are connected to that moment somehow.
Think back over the last 24 hours. Make a list of 3 actions (verbs) that you took during this time.
Make a grid on your piece of paper by drawing three lines horizontally, and then three vertical lines over them—like a tic-tac-toe grid. You should have 9 squares.
In each square, write one of the 9 words or phrases you came up with above. The order doesn’t matter.
Now, crumple your paper, and then uncrumple it. See what lines were created between the boxes. What words or phrases are connected by these lines?
Begin your poem, essay, or story with those connections or pairings. Discover what brings them together; learn how they are part of the whole.
Call back to December’s post on resting: Tricia Hershey of the Nap Ministry makes such a strong case for rest as a powerful way to counter capitalism, especially for Black folks whose ancestors were enslaved. This interview with her on For The Wild made me think about my ancestors who worked in the corporate sugar cane plantations in Hawai’i, and this has helped me in my commitment to resting.
We’re emerging slowly out of winter, and I’m starting to think about the seeds I’ll plant this year. I loved Camille T. Dungy’s essay I recently came across, “From Dirt,” on “the legacy and journey, triumph and trauma, of seeds.”
Anti Racism Daily recently sent out a post on the importance of Black poetry “as both a cornerstone of American culture and a mode of resistance against American cruelty”—paired with a call to invest in Black youth poetry projects, like MassLEAP in Boston.
The rise of queer Black women country music artists. I am obsessed. Especially with this song, Persephone, by Allison Russel, which makes me cry every time.
I was honored to have my poem “February” featured in Poets.org’s Poem-A-Day, ushering in this month. I know many of you are newly here because of that. Thank you for joining the Starlight and Strategy community!
That’s it from me for this month. Thanks for reading down this far!
I’ll be back in your inbox for March’s full moon—just days before the Spring Equinox. Hurray!
I love this and really needed to read it at the moment I opened it, so your atoms which are so far away had an impact on my atoms! Thank you!