Although one letter a is identical to another a, words and sentences can be different.... Likewise, in our universe there are only a few fundamental building blocks: quarks, leptons, and gluons. These are the letters of the alphabet of nature. With this rather small alphabet, words are made—these are atoms. The words are strung together, with their own special grammar—the laws of quantum theory—to form sentences, which are molecules. Soon we have books, entire libraries, made out of molecular “sentences.” . . . Out of identity came difference.
—Heinz R. Pagels, The Cosmic Code

Leaping leptons, gluons, and quarks—
difference from identity!
Sound me the a, Professor Pagels, from your name, sound me a b;

ra! ra! we’ve started, now a c,
ca—abracadabra;
dance me the prestidigitation of the alphabet
back to an a, released as ah!

ah as in quark: and thus an a, conjoined
with ah, prolonged and rounded,
might have been the primal word
for joy unbounded

from astonished ape-like lips—an ah, an ahr,
resounding from the lungs,
reverberating hahr up to the teeth,
until the tongue,

discovering a purpose to its taste,
plucked teasing, consonantal t,
and thus gave shape to heart,
atomic word for the anatomy

of art, for speech, ah yes, delighting
in its parts. Words are a lake
in which we look, Professor Pagels, partner, at
ourselves, reflecting what we make,

as morning brightens crimson in the mist,
from what we hear and see—
a rondo of frogs rumbling,
light wind lilting lento in the willow tree.

Such mimic long o wind words
bind us over silent distances, although
we two, in fact, have never met;
and yet in thought I go

with you where, glowing gluons!, your thoughts go. So if you read these
ahs, these ohs, this cry of origins,
call of identities,

perhaps you’ll follow me over
the glade, over the clover-purple hill,
where once my father led me—I
can see him still—

to find the spring that starts the minnow stream
that sloshes over pebbles burbling
through the pendant, orange jewelweed,
then bubbles loudly, merging

with the courting bullfrog bellows echoed
in the cattail marshes all
along the margins of the lake. There you can hear
the world’s first bard Neanderthal

bleat out an a into an ah! And oh,
Professor Pagels, ah and oo, across the separating spaces everywhere,
from you to me and me to you,

molecular sentences flow
connecting differentiated strangers, oo! Trees
bloom with leaves of words; ohs blow
from the low lake to cool entire libraries.

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 4 Number 8, on page 46
Copyright © 2019 The New Criterion | www.newcriterion.com
newcriterion.com/issues/1986/4/neanderthal-poem-ah-number-one