By Peter Halstead

Geometry is not inherent in nature

I remembered it, I thought, as long,
But memory, once again, is wrong:
        Visions formed by swollen sight,
            History stapled to the light—
We can sometimes shape the sea
With the algebra of mimicry,
            The filings of magnetic air
            Turned to iron by a stare,
Or a Nikon’s robot mind.
The real world is blind
            To such imitated seas
            Where the pixels clone a masterpiece
To please some oscillating urge
Where a carbon paper surge
            Feigns the ocean’s final reach
            And pastes a jungle on a beach.
The eel grass this year grew in
Where there used to be a ruin.
            The rolling tide dissolves the sand,
            Although I hold it in my hand.
I might take credit for its birth,
But I’ve lost my pictures of the earth.
            I remember stars and tides
            Or are they only faded slides
When the flawed camera
Of the eyes
            Kept such ephemera
            In the skies?

Bahía de Tenacatita, Mexico
April 4th, 1993

November 7th and 8th, 2021


Paramnesia is amnesia for phenomena, when you can’t remember if a view is real or just a photo. I often find that I remember not an event, but the picture of it.

Lawns I remembered as huge become tiny when I see them as an adult. Which is the real vision? The truth as it appears to my more sophisticated and experienced vision, or the wonderful fantasy of my more imaginative brain?

My favorite scene from The Incredible Shrinking Man is apparently something, on rewatching the film, that I made up and inserted in my memory: as the hero continues to shrink, he cries tears of frustration and sorrow for his lost world, and his tears rapidly become a sea as he shrinks geometrically. And far away on that sea is the distant, unreachable island of his dreams, the goal we all have of reaching some distant tropical paradise.

So the scientific facts, the measurements, are not what nature prizes. Thoreau said the mind is a great divider: it creates hours and minutes out of longer events that animals do not quantize.

Nature values the myths, as memory seems to. The better stories. Our higher pursuits, like algebra and geometry, are appliqués, like Hockney photo collages, pasted over a more lackadaisical, chaotic, random world. Measurements, numbers, comparisons are an add-on. We might remember the color of a lawn, but not its size. Our beach days are movies, and we make up their endings. All we know is that they are hazy.

As Einstein said, geometry is not inherent in nature.