Hell is an effective concept of fear
Conjured to make Christians
Hold their faith dear –
In my mind –
At least – this is clear –
Omniscient God –
Of course – had to be privy –
To knowledge that Heat
Distills pure water from sea
Copyright by Minh Tan on listed dated of completion
and published in Perspectives, ISBN 0-9686250-0-2.
Notes to this poem…
How I made this metaphorical leap between water distillation from sea water to leave the salt, or impurities to the pure water, behind, and Christianity’s concept of Hell is still puzzling to me after all these years. Sure, a heat source, usually in the form of fire (Bunsen burner in my chemistry oriented mind at the time), distills the sea water, as Hell is the ultimate source of fire, but it’s still an abstraction at a scale I’m not used to today when I reread this poem to annotate it. Mind you, I was reading a lot of Emily Dickinson at the time, so I was thinking a lot more abstractly metaphorical than today. I was reading other poets’ works, too, but it was Emily’s metaphors that were most addictive, in the sense of her words about how if it hurt her head when she read something, then she knew it was poetry.
I don’t know how much this poem qualified as poetry, but I can tell you it hurts my head now thinking how I came to make the connection in that metaphor of water distillation and moral distillation in Christianity.
I was just finished my First Class Honours B.Sc. in Chemistry graduation when I wrote this poem and had just decided to intentionally skip my graduation because I knew I would not be going on in the field afterward. I was planning to go to Montreal during graduation to stay with my sister, to “get away” from the home environment in which I had lived during those 4 years of school, to think about my future in a new atmosphere. It turned out to be a future that ultimately saw me ditch the chemistry for a start from scratch in graphic design, going through welfare, unemployment insurance when it was still called that, some poor living and eventual success. It was not easy without proper schooling in it, but it was the price I was willing to pay for a future of my own choosing since the chemistry was just a “best choice” of what I had available to me for schooling after Engineering didn’t work out because the program at Dalhousie just plainly sucked compared to what my friends were doing elsewhere around the country. But knowing what that thinking led me to, eventually, with the big change in life to pursue what I loved instead of what was “logical”, you can probably appreciate the abstract frame of mind I was in at the time to have spawned this abstract poem. To finish the story, I chose graphic design from the volunteering work I had recently done with the Youth for Justice (YSJ) group associated with Oxfam Canada in Halifax. After I was brave enough to decide I would do what I loved for a change, graphic design was, ironically, the “logical” choice.
The O-series of poems are one stanza poems composed before I got onto writing haiku and tanka, and short poetry while in action or traveling by select means like plane or ferry. These poems are 3-9 lines long with at least one rhyming couplet, and not of the short forms just mentioned. For the sake of elegance, I just called the collection One.