Burgess Needle

Rookie (June 19,1941 / Boston, MA)

Singularities - Poem by Burgess Needle

by Burgess Needle

If that Roman ship had a name it was gone:
cedar planks, rope, pitch and resin
weighed over 400 tons not counting
Wine, olive oil, and fish sauce stored
in a few thousand amphorae not to mention
thousands of almonds and a few millstones
fine furniture, pottery, jewels and coins
Of royal visage and precious metal.
The canvass spread across deck
to protect cargo and merchants was treated
by that storm as one more sail and shredded
To a hovering shroud
that slowly dissolved within
what the Empire called Mare Nostrum.

A heap of dead naked women
The sponge diver declares, breaking
a calm Mediterranean surface,
his face mapped in disbelief.

His skeptical captain sees
bronze and marble forms, pitted
by chemistry and time, serving
their sentence off the coast of Antikythera
decades before the birth of the Christos.
Later, scouring the area, more astute eyes spot
something strange enough to warrant
its own net to the surface:
A sort of gear imbedded in rock.

The early Greeks shipped copper from Cyprus
tin from Turkey and mixed it
nine to one before heating it molten
and pouring it into clay molds.
Bronze figures were sent throughout
the Aegean and beyond, or, at times, absorbed
by a tempest to slip past Neptune’s grasp and lie
Or stand silently in place.

When the Roman General heard his ship was lost
off some distant island he wondered
where could that wondrous Ephebos,
a beardless and youthful Heracles
devised by Euphranor himself, now rest?
He imagined that young and perfect youth
in bronze holding out to Eternity
the Apples of the Hesperides.
Roman artists would have made
him merely perfect.

Perhaps because the general knew Greek,
had been schooled as much as trained,
he held a deeper regret for another loss:
A gift from Rhodes the Stoics promised
would please even Julius Caesar.
The emperor’s curiosity was known
to extend beyond Celtic body paint
or Persian Spice to the orbits
of heavenly spheres.
He would have prized a Greek mechanism
With gears of pointed teeth
And a lineage to Archimedes
That could track from hypothesis to proof
As certain as the degree of a right angle
When a clear moon would be darkened
By earth’s very shadow

He would have marveled at the cogs
And wheels attuned
To follow the planets
A construct of the famous Posidonius
The general, as any pragmatist, sloughed
off lost possibilities, yet hoped
a chance remained of finding
Another such device, a Cassandra of machines
except whose predictions
were never scorned.
Was it not logical
a second such mechanism had to emerge
From Syracuse, Rhodes or Corinth?
Surely, since the minds of men never rest,
could such a thing be a lost singularity?
All that to become nothing more
than the echo of a memory
for two thousand years until the words
A heap of dead naked women?

Who of the ancients could have imagined
some grain of their technology would survive
on Egyptian parchment, travel
over land to China, re-emerge
As a clockwork mechanisms to be absorbed
in Europe and refined until
that lost miracle last submerged
From human ken beneath the Mediterranean’s
Agiorítiko dark surface,
that remnant of lost invention, seen
as a gear imbedded in rock, was re-born
when the descendents of Archimedes
peered deeper and deeper in awe
at the complexities of that device and wondered
What else is out there?

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*Initially discovered in a shipwreck off the coast of the island of Antikythera, what has become known as the Antikythera Mechanism or device, has turned out to be the most sophisticated piece of machinery from antiquity. The mechanism apparently was capable of displaying positions of the sun in the zodiac along with phases of the moon and possibly the orbits of several planets, making it the world’s first known computer. Machinery of such complexity was not recreated for another thousand years.

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Poem Submitted: Friday, February 12, 2010

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