I've been invited to speak to the Chemistry
Honors class at Los Altos High about poetry.
I talk about proteins, the language of nature,
how the god Proteus can assume any shape.
I write in Chinese— chemistry, Hua Hsüeh
on the blackboard, how the ideogram Hua
is composed of a man with a ladle, the image
of witches' kitchen and bubbling cauldrons.

Suddenly I'm telling them about alchemy,
transforming that which is common into
something that is precious, how changing
the lattice of carbon can turn graphite
into diamond. This is the poet's
delight— finding inner treasures,
weaving words into wings to touch
the spirit, refining lead into gold.

I show students pictures of Einstein and
Copernicus in the wisdom mudra pose,
how moments of mental quiet precede
all great discoveries. I ask them to
imagine themselves as an element—
write about neon lights and platinum
blondes, silicon chips, iron constitution,
silver eloquence and the golden rule.

The Periodic Table is a giant cross-weave
of music, atomic orbitals are filled with
dancing couplets, the Lanthanides stretch
out like a sonnet, noble gases like end-
stopped rhymes, in every row & column,
a villanelle is singing. The bell rings and
the class applauds, but all I see is the Hua
turning into a man bowing & sitting in prayer.

Peter Y. Chou, Palo Alto, 3-31-92

Peter Y. Chou— from On the Other Side of that Window:
California Poets in the Schools 1993 Statewide Poetry Anthology

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