Entanglements: Poems by Jack Mayer 2022
Jack Mayer is the pediatrician and poet that I always wanted to be. From his early days as a new doctor caring for the rural poor along the Vermont/Canada border to his present life as a senior citizen still hiking the Long Trail and striving to understand the beauty, love, and loss that comprise the world, Mayer has distinguished himself by bringing a discerning and questioning mind and eye to his environment. Time, gravity, muons, probability, spooky action at a distance—all of these jostle for position in his questing brain with the simple joys of nature and human relationships that are the quotidian. While most people walk the Long Trail on Camel’s Hump and see ferns, rocks, and scat, Mayer digs below those retinal images and wrestles with the underlying laws of our universe. Thank goodness he can also write so beautifully and translate his thoughts into words so the rest of us can appreciate this unique view of our world.
When I read Mayer’s first book of poems, ‘Poems From the Wilderness’ published in 2019, I immediately identified with and was engrossed by the work. This book picks up on the themes of that volume and adds the new dimension of the COVID pandemic. Wonder at the fact that we are all made from stardust and the fact that one can put a bowl of Cheerios on a table that is in fact nearly entirely open space and exists as a probability rather than a solid object is translated into words in this volume with its sections on Doctor Poems, Quantum Entanglements, COVID/Plague, Love, Wilderness, and Dreams. Here’s an example of Mayer’s fine observations, questions, and writing from a poem entitled ‘When I Say I Love You’: We recognize each other as congruent stardust,/tenderness faster than the speed of light,/connected in a whirling quantum singularity/of particles clumping, of atoms and molecules,/yours, mine, countless others,/careening off the guardrails of our observable world,/catalyzing the unlikely into the inevitable.” That last line is fantastic and a good example of Mayer’s ability to move from the extra-ordinary to the everyday.
I could quote at length from his poems about walking the Long Trail, now in his 70’s a different experience from his youth, or from his poems about caring for an infant with a terminal genetic disease whose parents lived in rural poverty, or from his very funny poem using anatomic terms about learning from his cadaver in medical school, but I won’t. Instead, I urge you to read the book. You won’t be disappointed.
(Physicians writing scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals are now required to disclose any potential conflict of interest in terms of payments or other relationships with pharma or other companies, so here’s my COI disclosure. Mayer asked me to write a blurb for this book and though it didn’t make it to the back cover (Jay Parini and Alan Lightman, two far more distinguished and widely-known authors did), my remarks are included in ‘Advanced Responses’ on page 117. Reading now what I wrote many months ago was fun and rang true.)