Thursday, July 7, 2011

Fresnel Lenses

Something I wrote helped someone write a poem.


The greatest human tragedy of our times:
society forcing every person to justify
his existence with a "purpose." Not all
who wander are lost.
--Kevin Barbieux, "The Homeless Guy"

If not our greatest grief, it's our most subtle,
This mania to "justify" our lives:
Calm contemplation offers firm rebuttal
Of the insistence greatness always strives.
Brief, luminous bursts disclose what best survives
Like Fresnel lenses guiding ships at sea;
Once, scalloped glass honed candle flames to knives
That split the thickest fog with clarity.
What purpose is there, if not just to be?
A Fresnel lens asks nothing of the night,
Imparts to storms no innate tragedy;
Accepts wide waves blown shoreward, wild and white.
The heavy glass--both delicate and strong--
Insists on what was present all along.

--- Robert Lavett Smith

What the author says about the poem:
Glad you liked it. Several things came together in this one. First, the quote used as an epigraph was given to me as a writing prompt during a phone conversation yesterday with my friend Deena Larsen, in Denver. Secondly, I went on line at school this morning to look up the "free days" at the local museums, so that we could take the kids on low-cost field trips. While doing so, I came across a reference to a Fresnel lens on display at the maritime museum on Fisherman's Wharf (an absolute must-see, apparently!) I had encountered Fresnel lenses before, and knew what they were, but hadn't thought about them in years; the quote and the lens image just seemed to compliment one another in an unexpected way. Finally, I had about an hour to myself in the classroom--with nothing whatsoever to do--while the class of severely impaired summer school students was out in the community with the teacher and the other aides. Having time to kill, I took the basic idea, and just ran with it. The class returned at the exact moment I hit "send" on my email. Serendipity, really.