“Curie in Love” by Erin Noteboom

Erin Noteboom


If a radioactive substance is placed in the dark in the vicinity of the closed eye or of the temple, a sensation of light fills the eye.
—Marie Curie, doctoral dissertation, 1903

The sensation of light
is light. There is no way for her to know it.
She is so young and so in love, marrying
an equal, choosing for her gown a navy dress
suitable for use in laboratories. Hand in hand
they slip through the university courtyard—
Pierre and Marie Curie, in the world before the war.
One of our joys was to go into our workroom at night,
she wrote. To perceive on all sides
the feebly luminous silhouettes of the bottles
and capsules of our work. That light
marbles and embarnacles them both,
turns their fingers strange and fibrous.
Soon enough he cannot rise from bed.
It was really a lovely sight and always new to us.
She loses twenty pounds. Two pregnancies.
There is no way for her to know that her light
will soon paint gunsights and the dials of watches.
That it is ticking through her body, his body,
faster than time. What she has understood
is astonishing enough: the atom, active.
It is as if marbles were found to be breathing out.
As if stones were found to speak.
Sick and stumbling, Pierre is struck
by a cart of military equipage. He passes untouched
under the hooves of six horses. Untouched
between the front wheels, between the turns
of chance and miracle, before six tons
and the back wheel open his skull
and kill him instantly.
Thus closes the deterministic world.
Your coffin was closed and I could see you no more.
I put my head against it.
From the cold contact something like a calm
or intuition came to me.
She does not record him speaking.
That light. She had no way of knowing
it was ionizing radiation, entering the eye,
lighting the eye gel the way a cooling pool is lit
around a great reactor. Her hair was thick then,
and thickly piled. Her fingers smooth.
Her thighs like marble. She closes her eyes
and raises the vial.

from Rattle #49, Fall 2015
Tribute to Scientists


Erin Noteboom: “I started university with a burning desire to study both poetry and physics. Sadly they make you pick, and I picked physics on the grounds that teaching myself about eigenvectors was kind of a tall order. I got all the way to a doctoral program before I realized I was wrong—it’s in poetry that I find my most startling equations. I write poetry and children’s fiction now, and work as a science writer.” (web)

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