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Topic Introduction
Judith Ortiz Cofer Reads...
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A Theory of Chaos: October 1962
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You can listen to Judith Ortiz Cofer as she reads this work.
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Each moment is the fruit of forty thousand years. The minute-winning days, like flies, buzz home to death, and every moment is a window on all time.
          --Thomas Wolfe

I was just ten, and far away
from all I had known, when I was sent
to find help for my sick mother.
Ships and warplanes
were gathering around Cuba
and my father was in one of them,
silenced by national security,
dead or alive, we did not know.
I could not speak English
and so was totally alone.
Words in the new language
were simmering in my head
like bees trying to communicate
salvation through dance.
My life was chaos
shaped by chance, biology,
and either el destino
or circumstance. I did not know
or care then
that I carried the coded message
to make language from pure need.

But then,
as I entered the too-bright drugstore
alien as a space ship, sudden
as Ezekiel's wheel,
mysterious as the Annunciation---
I could understand the speech of people,
I could read the labels,
and raised my head up
to hear the voice
over the loudspeaker.
All was clear,
and fell into place,
even the blinding light.

It had taken ten minutes
of absolute dread, of nearly drowning
in my own chemicals,

and maybe of synapses folding
into dams and bridges: a million butterflies
lifting their minuscule wings as one,
gale winds over Iceland.
And the strange attractor this time
dressed in aqua and pink robes,
and feathers, called down by my mother
from fevered dreams of Guardian Angels
to aid me.

Given the gift of tongues,
my heart and brain
synchronized their wing-beats,
or cranked a secret engine
just long enough to allow
one small, frightened girl to fly
a little, to hover low over the chaos,
and just above where meaning begins.

From A Love Story Beginning in Spanish: Poems by Judith Ortiz Cofer. Publication pending Originally published in The Watershed Anthology II (LaCrosse: University of Wisconsin Press, 1999). Used with permission of the author.
"And so, of course, my daughter says, 'That's really nice, mother, but it has nothing to do with Chaos Theory.'"

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