Manzano Mountain Review is an online New Mexico literary journal affiliated with UNM-Valencia.

How Things Break

by Cecile Afable


                           After Dr. Michael Marder & Dr. Jay Fineberg

Like waves on shore or antique porcelain against hardwood,

like dawn like day
like bones             like codes
like a twenty dollar bill                like a heart
or heat,

breaking into thunderstorms
late afternoon end of July.

Attention physicists paid to how things break has been slight.

All the ways a verb can act,
the subject seems too hard.

Break: when atoms decide
to dissociate     along a fissure.

Solids fail through the propagation of cracks,

a renting of reality
language and mathematics
struggle              to explain.

Crack: substance blossoming into
void between once-coherent halves.

Cracks move so quickly that even basic quantities such as temperature are ill-defined.

If cracks are prerequisite for breaks,
lightning before thunder after heat,
what is the temperature
of a cracking       heart?

Here is how a perfect solid would break.

Other children of my mother tongue
misplace faith in the language
of love. In French you do not
break up you just break —
as in porcelain         or bones,

no optimistic second half
of a phrasal verb
to soften             jagged edges.

The motion of cracks might be more complicated than that of particles moving in straight lines.

Where and how does a crack break?

Crack, from Old English cracian, to make an explosive noise,
related to Dutch kraken and German krachen:
sea monster cousin thundering beneath breaking waves.

Flaws in materials determine strength.

Break, from Old English brecan,
related to Dutch breken and German brechen,
Indo-Europen roots tangled with Latin,
frangere, to break, perhaps a distant relative of
quassare, Latin from which grows
casser in French, to break.

Cracks form at the atomic scale, extend to the macroscopic level, [and] are irreversible.

The smallest parts are the strongest ones
and the weakest,          what happens
teeny-tiny is permanent. Bonding energy of
a vitreous mixture           of silicon and oxygen
is next to diamond, but will not hold up
to a stone           being thrown.

One should not build glass houses.

Yet the elements incarnate near infinite forms, one can
break them down        break them apart           break them up
like analyses       like Ikea furniture          or a schoolyard fight,

break them in as many combinations
as your heart     desires.
   ​​
Cecile Afable is a Filipino-American writer who was born in the Catskill mountains of New York state and has subsequently lived in central Massachusetts, Boston, Grenoble, and the Ardèche region of France. Afable is one half of t he renga project, and you can find her on instagram @ars_poetica_et_cetera.