Elementary Matters: Not so Simple, My Dear Watson!

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For purists, you’ll never actually find the statement, “Elementary, my dear Watson!” in any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s sixty Sherlock Holmes stories. As I read on multiple sites today, Holmes uses both phrases separately in the stories, but never together in this way. An interesting fact, but what has that to do with a geyser like Old Faithful?

A little over five years ago, I challenged my summer poetry seminar students to write a poem comparing themselves to one of the four elements of matter: earth, water, air, or fire. I gave them some liberty to digress from these four elements as they saw fit, which led to a wonderful poem by my eldest son in which he compared himself to wood. As I tackled the prompt myself, I quickly realized that it’s not that simple. How can you compare yourself to just ONE of the four basic elements? Science itself proves the futility in such a task. Just look at the Periodic Table of Elements. There’s 118 of them! Each of the four elements of matter is made up of even smaller elements (hydrogen and oxygen, for example), and those elements are composed of even smaller parts: protons, neutrons, and electrons, oh my! And of course water can exist in different states: liquid, solid, and gas! (WHOA! Way TOO much science for a site dedicated to deepening in poetry and song!) Not true! Science is a deepening ground itself. I guess this isn’t so elementary, my dear Watson!

My initial comparison to the basic element of water led me to explore the complexity of the speaker (not that he is my direct representation – I actually hope I’m more refreshing and tranquil than what this poem suggests!). In a world that seeks to define us with labels or cancel us for our complexities or imperfections, this poem is a resounding call to recognize the intricacy of the human being and the individuality of our flawed characters. Anyone who demands that you be something simpler, more easy to define (and therefore control) lacks a true understanding of just what it means to be human.

Elementary Matters

Vincent H. Anastasi – 2015

You casually ask,
in terms of the ancient elements of matter,
whether I am earth, water, air, or fire,
and I confess – I guess – I’m water:

the unrelenting drip
from the calcium-encrusted
faucet in the kitchen,
tapping on the stainless steel sink
the regular rhythm of imperfection,
of failed attempts to fix,
the sheer willpower of water;

the swirling eddies
of filth transporting the useless
matter – the waste – away
someplace remote, unseen
where I rest in
sludge drying beds
till utterly vaporized;

the portable, packaged prescription –
eight 8-ounce glasses a day –
convenience, BPA free
stylishly labelled
evoking images of some pristine
spring where bright blue stags
proudly display their many-pointed racks;

the effervescent geyser
erupting like clockwork
every 91 minutes or so, turbulent
jets of steam – a hydrothermal explosion –
tourists flock to gaze
on my ever flowing frothy face
or bathe like Macaques in my therapeutic pools.

But, perhaps, that’s more than you asked;
a more elementary answer would suffice.
In terms of earth, water, air, or fire
I’m nothing so simple or so nice.

One thought on “Elementary Matters: Not so Simple, My Dear Watson!

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