1103: Chaos Theory by Clint Smith

20240424 Slowdown

1103: Chaos Theory by Clint Smith


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

I stood before an applauding audience, after just finishing a reading in Mystic, Connecticut. I thought, “How is this my life?” — one in which a quest for language is a welcomed source of communal joy and discovery. Even here, on this podcast, I get to share with you poems written by poets that, hopefully, you experience as moving, and even as a necessary part of your day. What a life!

Over the years, because of this art, I have made friends and students who are like family, and readers who challenge me to do more than dilly dally, who seek a spiritual purpose to words and how we use them.

Recently, I sat with my son Langston on my roof, as a sunset on the horizon bewitched the hills off in the distance. I had a similar feeling. I fell in love with writing and reading poetry, just as he entered the world. He and I have journeyed together, and alone. It wasn’t easy for us at times. I am lucky and proud of him and me. We’ve overcome personal challenges that have, in its wake, placed us in greater tune with each other.

Looking on my past, I think to myself what if — what if I had made different decisions? What if I had applied for an MBA instead of an MFA? What if I never fell in love with the world? Or said yes to that dream job that turned out to not be a dream job? Occasionally, I try to follow the series of decisions that led me to this present, however triumphant or painful. My life wavers between fate and destiny. But then again, poetry brings me to the belief that some mysterious force is at work, below, that unveils a spiritually deeper meaning to it all.

Today’s poem follows a similar trajectory of what-ifs, imagining possibilities far different than the present reality.

Chaos Theory
by Clint Smith

If twenty million years ago
the butterfly flew in a different 
direction do you think 
we would have met, maybe
we wouldn’t have even been
people, maybe we wouldn’t 
have even been us, you know,
maybe you would have 
been a tortoise and I would
be a raspberry,
maybe we would both be plants 
on opposite sides of the same
coral reef, so that we could
have been connected without
ever having met,
maybe I would be an oak cut
down to be the home that held
you, maybe I would have never
been, maybe the butterfly’s wings
would have blown the seed
into the river
and away from the soil
which otherwise would have
become a bush of blueberries
which otherwise would have
been eaten by a squirrel or
some other prehistoric rodent
which otherwise
would have died
in a field of milkweeds
which otherwise would have
been carried by the wind
to another place
which otherwise might have
gotten caught in the feathers
of the bird which otherwise
might have flown to the other
side of the sea I could go on
but what I mean to say
is that it would have been 
such a tragedy 
if something happened
that would have prevented me
from meeting you
like a butterfly
who didn’t realize it was flying 
in the wrong direction.

"Chaos Theory" by Clint Smith from COUNTING DESCENT © 2016 Clint Smith. Used by permission of Write Bloody Publishing.