Cosmic Gall
January 27, 2009, 10:32 pm
Filed under: Books, Nature writing

John Updike, who died today, had far greater claims to fame than this poem, from 1960, first published in The New Yorker and collected in Telephone Poles and Other Poems. But it’s a poem that I love. I once loved it simply for its fun and for the wow-ness of neutrinos; now I do so also, in part, because it deals with the fundamental paradox of my line of work. When you write about the material, however wonderful you may find it or make it, it remains but the material, and there will always be ways in which matter can be dismissed.

NEUTRINOS, they are very small.
They have no charge and have no mass
And do not interact at all.
The earth is just a silly ball
To them, through which they simply pass,
Like dustmaids down a drafty hall
Or photons through a sheet of glass.
They snub the most exquisite gas,
Ignore the most substantial wall,
Cold shoulder steel and sounding brass,
Insult the stallion in his stall,
And scorning barriers of class,
Infiltrate you and me! Like tall
and painless guillotines, they fall
Down through our heads into the grass.
At night, they enter at Nepal
and pierce the lover and his lass
From underneath the bed — you call
It wonderful; I call it crass.

Related thoughts can be found in a This I Believe essay on NPR

Image from Flickr user Henry, under CreativeCommons license. Wish I could make some sort of micropayment for rights on the poem.


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