Liquid to gas at temperatures so high
That phase-distinctions blur and leave it there
In place, that fine-wrought microscale array
Of lattices the cosmic dust streams through
To layer three, then rests in aerogel.

A sense conundrum: blue as Summer sky
Yet hazy, thin, impalpable, a clair-
of dreamy stuff some latter-day
Tech-savvy alchemist might think to brew
Or strange sea-beast secrete within its shell.

So many wondrous uses they apply
This nearly-nothing to, this light-as-air
Material poised to throw off matter’s sway
And do as middle spirits used to do,
From Puck and Ariel to Tinkerbell.

How but by magic get that probe to fly
Close in the comet’s tail and track its flare
Of tailback particles, with some that lay
Close-latticed and returned to human view,
Each with its cache of cosmic tales to tell.

The trick’s to get the silica to dry,
Shed liquid, yield whatever stuff’s to spare
When microstructure rules, and so display,
In strength and lightness, all that it can do
To conjure form from chaos cell by cell.

Some hopers think we humans might get by,
In times to come, with new techniques to pair
Carbon with silicon and then convey
From brain to chip all that defines just who
We are beyond the way our gene-codes fell.

Consider aerogel and you’ll see why
The plan won’t work, how it neglects the share
Of native imperfection we betray
Each time we see in it the shade of blue
That holds us in our sky-fixated spell.

Yet how put straight those vagaries of eye
And brain that science bids we strive to square
With its first rule: on no account give way
To qualities like color, shade or hue
And grant them space in its high citadel!

Gaze in those lucid depths and then deny,
Should you so wish, that here’s the mind-space where
Both rivals have old debts they’ve yet to pay:
From techne, all that falls to vision’s due;
From vision, all that techne’s arts compel.

For it’s a blue-shift world we occupy,
Dilemma-prone, clear-cut solutions rare,
And clashing viewpoints often held at bay
By hues, just short of violet, that eschew
Sharp contrasts for an azure aquarelle.

Edited by Dava Sobel