ICE RULES

Graupel on the window panes—
Before as pure as summer glass—
Now etched with diamond lanes
Through which flooded futures pass,

Skies pasted in from former snows,
Where the frozen hands of time
Cut across our watchlike windows
With interstices of rime,

As if the lattices of frost
Were crystal paths down which
The weather is embossed,
Whose crystal needles stitch

The world together in their mazes,
From where we oversee
The softness of its distant faces
Cast in winter’s hard geometry.

San Francisco
October 5th and 6th, 2013

Kailua
MayDay 2016


This is a poem about the hard path from childhood into
maturity. The rigid designs imposed unexpectedly on the
clear future we expect in our youth force us into directions
which we might not have chosen, but which are nonetheless
part of the universe, woven into the strands of a cosmic
pattern.

This is also a poem about quick ice or snap freezing,
also called glassy water, which freezes instantly into ice.
This phenomenon is an energy exchange or phase transformation.
It’s how matter can move across the universe
faster than light. The frost on interstellar dust is quick ice.

The physics of such miracles involves an intensely
poetic vocabulary, invoking lattice dynamics, Dirac string
dynamics, Ising spins, the Mpemba effect, Pauling’s model
for proton disorder, Coulombic interaction, quantum
tunneling processes, the crystal field barrier, the diffusion
of unconfined particles, the Ewald summation method,
the Metropolis Monte Carlo algorithm, a vestige of the
Kasteleyn transition unique to topologically constrained
systems, Zeeman energy, the dual diamond lattice, closed
circuit geometry, and the Bernal-Fowler ice rules.

But what these concepts allow is even more metaphoric
and literary than their language suggests.

Although nothing can officially go faster than the speed
of light (which is also the speed of gravity), in fact there are
forces outside the laws of relativity which alter the multiverse
simultaneously, with no respect for time or space.

One such force is inflation, in which the entire multiverse
(stars, planets, dark matter, time, space, gravity) was
expanded in less than a second, formed out of an already-present
lattice of microwave energy, which continues to
provide an invisible net for seemingly empty space. So
existence went from an invisible grid to 400 billion galaxies
in a matter of seconds, vastly beyond any speed conceivable
to science a few decades ago. Cosmologists have
theorized that we’ll eventually return to that simple invisible
energy grid, at which time there may be another cataclysmic
expansion.

Another force is that of twin particles in quantum theory.
Any change to one particle is reflected instantly in its
twin, even if the twin is at the other end of the universe,
an energy exchange unaffected by the limits Einstein predicted
for the speed of light.

A third force is that of a thermodynamic phase transition,
where, say, an ocean of supercooled water turns
instantly to ice, known as a homogenous nucleation, the
way a window pane can suddenly turn into a lattice of ice
crystals. An example of this in literature can be found in
Jules Verne’s Off on a Comet, where a child throws a rock
into flat-calm sea, causing it to freeze up. Here is the
passage:

Notwithstanding the increasing cold, the sea, unruffled
as it was by a breath of wind, still retained its liquid
state. It is an established fact that water, under this condition
of absolute stillness, will remain uncongealed at a
temperature several degrees below zero, whilst experiment,
at the same time, shows that a very slight shock
will often be sufficient to convert it into solid ice. It
had occurred to Servadac that if some communication
could be opened with Gourbi Island, there would be a
fine scope for hunting expeditions. Having this ultimate
object in view, he assembled his little colony upon a
projecting rock at the extremity of the promontory, and
having called Nina and Pablo out to him in front, he said:
“Now, Nina, do you think you could throw something
into the sea?”

“I think I could,” replied the child, “but I am sure that
Pablo would throw it a great deal further than I can.”

“Never mind, you shall try first.”

Putting a fragment of ice into Nina’s hand, he
addressed himself to Pablo:

“Look out, Pablo; you shall see what a nice little fairy
Nina is! Throw, Nina, throw, as hard as you can.”

Nina balanced the piece of ice two or three times in
her hand, and threw it forward with all her strength.

A sudden thrill seemed to vibrate across the motionless
waters to the distant horizon, and the Gallian Sea
had become a solid sheet of ice.

Anything faster than light is, according to Einstein,
going backwards in time; it also will have infinite mass. A
variant of this is called Tolman’s paradox, wherein you can
telephone into the past and change the future. To quote
Yogi Berra, the future ain’t what it used to be. It is more
recently called the butterfly effect, where going back in
time and stepping on a butterfly will change everything
that happens in the future.

One quantum explanation for how special relativity
tolerates such exceptions (of which Einstein was aware)
comes from Max Planck’s quantum mechanics, which
posits that there are parallel universes, where separate
scenarios can function without affecting one another. The
glimmers of information traded between these worlds are
precognitions, flash forwards or flash backwards, anticipations
or recollections which we all feel viscerally now
and then. Some entertaining side effects of these causality
paradoxes can be found in the Wikipedia entry on the
Grandfather Paradox.