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Before You Can Comprehend Particle Physics, You Must Look at the Empty Styrofoam Cup & Know It Is You


Before you can understand the Higgs Boson,

you must want something very badly

to exist.


This is what the novelist from your childhood

meant by hollow sound: the rain against

this parked car where you sit with your sad

stupid coffee cup, lightweight because it holds

only blank space.

Admit it, you sit in the car because it encloses you

more than the vacant kitchen or even the bathroom,

where your words echo back to you

across the tile. Your father or

father’s ghost or whoever would tell you

to try harder, to stop

projecting your emotions onto Styrofoam,

but it is easy to give in day after day in this rain,

or to turn to the radio as if those voices

bouncing through outer space can hear you.

Truth is, any time you step outside, the radio satellites and sky

are so far away,

and to touch one tree, you

have to distance from the others.

And between skin and bark a gap always lingers

even if only a microscope could see it, just like how

you and any partner can never

taste the exact same air

or miss the same childhood home.

Even in utero, there was space between

you and your mother, how could we not feel

lonely with lives begun under these circumstances?

All objects feel heavy

the physicists explain, but not all their particles are.

Some, like photons, have no mass at all—

and that lesson, at least, you can understand,

holding the empty (disposable cup) like you do.

But no, actually, that’s impossible, other physicists argue.

Of course everything has mass. If anything didn’t, no

theory would compute. But the theories do,    

we need them to: math

hints at stability. So where

does that mass come from? A tiny particle,

or boson, Peter Higgs

predicted, even smaller than a photon.

Though Higgs was an atheist and disliked the term,

searchers dubbed the particle which, if found,

would make everything make sense

the God particle.


(A particle physicist tried to explain all this

to non-genius me, and I drank green tea from a thermos,

feeling its heat run through organs I had never seen.)



In  2012,  in  the  ground  beneath  Switzerland—
while  physicists  swore  they  were  neither
desperate  nor  superstitious,  staring
at  a  magnification  screen,
chewing  their  mouths  to  blood,
a  particle-collider  machine  broke  an  atom
into  the  smallest  parts  ever,  and,

           there  it  was—

the  Higgs  Boson.
Having  seen  it,
the  physicists  wanted  never  to  blink  again.




The   Higgs   Field   contains   innumerable   Higgs   Bosons,

but   let’s   not   get   confused   by   the   word   field:

it   is   more   like   water   than   land,

an   ocean   we   soak   inside   as   would   sea   sponges,

we   are   never   not   in   the   Higgs   Field,

the   Higgs   Field   is   never   not   in   us.

The   bosons   pour   through   us   like   light,

so   we   are   not   Styrofoam   cups

but   clear   drinking   glasses   accepting   rays

(though   bosons   do   not   glow).

I   cannot   understand   any   of   this

without   more   metaphors.   On   the   phone,

I   ask   the   physicist   if   the   same   bosons

are   passing   through   the   cup   and   me

and   he   says   yes.   And   I   say

"And   the   rooftop?"   And   he   says   yes,   and   I   say

"My   neighbor’s   newspaper?"   and   he   says   yes,

and   I   say,   "What   about   through   me   and   you?"

And   he   says   "Eventually,"   and   I   say   the   geraniums

on   my   nephew’s   grave   on   the   coast,

and   he   says   yes,   and   I   say   my   high   school   bully,

and   he   says   yes,

and   I   am   calling   the   physicist   on   the   phone

again,   again,   today   from   my   parked   car

to   hear   him   say   yes,   yes.   And   I   say

What   about   someone   I   haven’t   met   but   may   love

if   they   exist?   and   the   parents   of   whichever   child

I   may   someday   adopt?   and   he   says   yes.

And   the   carpet   beneath   the   government’s   feet?

and   he   says   yes.   And   I   say,   what   about   today,

when   they   are   passing   that   horrible   law,

and   he   says   yes.   And   I   say,   the   clouds   over   India.   And

the   Great   Barrier   Reef,   growing   more   bleached

every   year,   and   he   says   yes.   And

the   frightened   people   on   airplanes,   and   he   says,

"Also   their   seatbelts.   Also   the   people   waiting

for   them   on   the   ground."

I   say   the   moon   and   I   say   the   radio   waves

and   I   say   the   fruit   in   the   refugee’s   backpack.

I   say   my   third-grade   librarian

and   he   says   yes,   and   I   say   the   priest

who   started   mass   with   prayers   I   did   not   understand,

one   that   began,   In   you   we   live   and   move

and   have   our   being,

and   the   physicist   says   yes,

and   I   say,   "That   priest   is   probably   dead,"

and   the   physicist   says   skeletons   count.

And   I   ask   if   Higgs   Bosons   run   through

the   famous   virus,   and   he   says,

"Through   all   the   famous   viruses"

and   through   the   forgotten   ones,

the   remains   of   the   people   who   died   undiagnosed

in   empty   rooms.

He   says   the   sunflowers,   and   the   cab   driver

who   overcharges   you   and   the   bus   driver   who

lets   you   ride   free,   and   the   people   who   lived

where   you’re   sitting

four   hundred   years   before,   and   he   says

until   only   recently,   we,   like   Peter   Higgs   and   like

the   ancient   Mesopotamians

writing   their   cuneiform   and   holding   their   newborns,

stood   within   the   Higgs   Field   and   didn’t   know   it,

but   the   field   is   really   more   like   air   or   water,

we   don’t   stand   on   it,


and   outside   the   car,   the   cold   rain

is   crashing   again,

the   thirteenth   day   in   a   row,

and   all   along,   I,

and   all   of   us,

have   been   swimming.

              --from Beloit Poetry Journal

One Candle Now, Then Seven More


I grew up in a family that did not tell

the story. I am listening to it now:


Even the morning you see a robin

flattened on the street, you hear


another in a tree, the notes

they’ve taught each other, bird


before bird before we were born.

And elsewhere, the rusty bicycle


carries the doctor all the way

across an island. He arrives in time.


Somewhere his sister adds water

to the soup until payday. And


over the final hill in a Southwestern

desert, a gas station appears. No,


the grief has not forgotten my name,

but this morning I tied


my shoelaces. Outside I can force

a wave at every face who might


need it. We might

spin till we collapse, but we still


have a hub: Even at dusk,

the sun isn’t going anywhere.


We have lamps. The story insists

it just looks like there’s only


enough oil to last one night.

              --from Tupelo Quarterly

Seeing My Grandmother Naked, B.A. Modlin

--from Everyone at This Party Has Two Names

Apology, B.A. Modlin.jpg

--from Everyone at This Party Has Two Names

Lazarus Is Having Trouble Readjusting, Brad Aaron Modlin.png

--from Everyone at This Party Has Two Names

--from Heavy Feather Review

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