The Butterfly Effect: revisiting an old poem

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Old men are signal. Young men are noise.

Fractal Butterfly 004, by agsandrew at DeviantArt

When I was a young writer I swung for the fence with every syllable. I felt like any word that didn’t crush you with profound implications for eternity was a wasted opportunity. I resented articles. I didn’t understand white space, breathing room, the need for silence between beats, and I had little time for the banal, pedestrian-mongering wanks who did.

I learned more about these things as I grew, and I think becoming a photographer has honed those lessons even more. Noise drowns signal.

Even though I’m no longer a poet, I sometimes read things I wrote in that past life. Every once in awhile I think hey, that was nicely turned. Others I think how it could be better, and how I’d write it today. For fun, I occasionally let Sam 2016 have a run at Sam 1991.

“The Butterfly Effect” is the prelude from my second cycle, although it’s really more of a bridge from my first book, The Rainwater Chronicles. Kind of a “picking up where we left off last time” kind of poem, I guess. You thought you were rid of me, di’nya? Heeee’s baaaaack. Etc. It’s still not great, but I weeded out some of the noise, some of the counterproductive grandiosity. Just for fun, you know.

And yes, I’m keenly aware of the fact that there’s more going on here than simply editing for style. It’s a very different poem in some key respects. The original was a young man’s poem, self-involved, raging with vitality. The revision reflects the experience of a man who has fewer days left to him. Art doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

So first up, the gritty reboot. The original follows.

The Butterfly Effect (2016)

An old man dies alone.
A young man leaps a barricade.


Downtown, early December rain:
manhole steam spawns tornadoes in China next year,
they say,
and butterflies in the Carolinas
come June…


There’s a TV in my head.
It plays shows I don’t remember.


Flying from Chicago to Denver.
High Plains, freezing at dusk.
Tracing the contours of flyover towns.
Slumping into primetime.

Slackfaced, back
before I knew I was gone.


We are sometimes fish bones,
picked clean,
rushes waving in a current,
mud sucking at our toes,

wishing, in the end,
we were more than we are:

A slow grass field.
Ashes to ashes.
A rock chiseled with my name.
A small afternoon
pressing its nose against the window.


Prologue: The Butterfly Effect (1991)

One life falls away,
another stands naked in its place.

Synapses rage
where December
crashes into skin,
steam spawning
tornadoes in China next year,

butterflies in the Carolinas
next week…

A half-thought flicks across
the tube behind my eyes,
images I neither remember nor imagine

Circuitry crawling up the back of my hand.
High Plains, freezing into dusk.
Flying from Chicago to Denver,
I try to trace the contours of towns I’ve never seen,
establish precedent for raconteurs
slumping into primetime…

back before I knew I was gone.

We are sometimes fish bones,
skeletons whole and picked clean,
like rushes waving in the cross-current,
and we thrive in the mire,
mud sucking at our toes,

wishing, at last,
we were somehow
more than we really are:

a slow grass field,
a rock engraved with our names,
a small afternoon
pressing its nose against eternity.