Image by John Kazior

Poetry Iphigenia in Aulis as Crystallography

Angelo Mao

The war process is commonly thought of in terms of warming.
As in the conflict heating up, there are hot spots in the region.
But it does not feel hot to be in the milieu of incipient conflict.
It feels cold.

Supersaturation. They swear an oath.

Warmer temperatures keep solutes in solution free from
binding to each other. Before Helen’s husband is picked,
the suitors are bound with an oath. Early evening.

Nucleation. Paris abducts Helen.

There are two possible processes of nucleation. The first
is homogeneous. This means the system is hermetic. The men
must see each other all the time: live together in one room
practically. Men with oaths. Helen is there too a moving bait.
They keep looking at her. What can they do. Then spontaneous
aggregation between fist and fist — This is not what happens
here. Paris came. A foreign substance instigates heterogeneous
nucleation. Helen binds to Paris.

Growth. The ships set sail.

Irregularities abound on the surface of the nucleated crystal.
These catch onto solutes grab them out of solution like hands.

Stalled growth. The ships becalmed at Aulis.

The island of Aulis has some shrubs and little amusement.
The army is bored and restless. Getting hot in the sun. Maybe
they will go home. Nothing irreversible has happened yet.

Stalled growth. Agamemnon realizes the need for the irreversible.

Agamemnon is the leader of Greeks and knows they must commit.
Death is the most irreversible thing and the most irreversible death
is someone loved.

Stalled growth. Iphigenia and Clytemnestra set sail for Aulis.

It is a terrible idea. Nucleated crystals are metastable and regress
into amorphous stages. Agamemnon is writing a letter to cancel
the summons for his favorite daughter. Solutes can wander back
into solution. But Menelaus is here and will remind on necessities
of continued growth.

Stalled growth. Iphigenia and Clytemnestra arrive.

Iphigenia is reluctant to climb the sacrificial altar. The entropic
cost for her remains significant. She was summoned with promises
she would be a bride. (Her father had lied.)

Growth. Iphigenia embraces the cause.

Iphigenia has changed her mind. Greece is greater than the life
of any one woman. Coolly she walks to the stone altar. Crystals
will take on the shape of their molecules. Iphigenia has arranged
herself into the shape of an animal. To ask why she changed her mind
misses the point entirely. There is no psychology. There is law
pattern order form. We can call it fate. It is so cold now only one
individual stands to the side unwilling to attach to the crystal but
Klytemnestra’s participation is not necessary. The full glass jar
will break before all of it has frozen.

Angelo Mao is a scientist and writer. His first book of poems is Abattoir.