“I, Like Muons” by Dick Westheimer

Dick Westheimer


I’m very excited. I feel like this tiny wobble may shake the foundations of what we thought we knew.
—Marcela Carena, head of theoretical physics at Fermilab

At the beginning, when the universe was hot,
tiny ripples in the fabric of time became
all that we see and even the emptiness we don’t.

Love and sorrow popped into existence
long enough to matter to me, thirteen
billion years later—a teen possessed by atoms,

charged by building blocks he couldn’t
fathom, a boy branded as aberrant because
stars seemed to matter more to him than girls

even though, when he lay back on the dew soaked grass
on one of those clear nights when the wash of stars obscured
the great blankness, he longed for someone soft and luminous

to lie next to him—to absorb with him the multitudes
of elementary particles cascading at light speed,
invisible, running through the two of them, through

the ground and rock beneath until those little bits met
their own annihilation, ceased to be, deep beneath us,
me, the boy, and the soft one next to me—

whose hand I’d clasp, sweetly, me wobbly as I emerged
into being with her.
If she was only there.

I, like muons, responded to unknown forces,
was not really alone, merely (they said of me, too)
sensitive, hiding attraction for some unknown other.

I, like muons, crashed through those that mattered
around me, not noticed. I thought that if I winked out,
some soft one might finally notice me, then wish

she’d looked more closely before my demise.
She would have seen how she moved me as I flew by.
I survived that uncertainty (unlike muons) long enough

to crash into another without being swallowed up, long enough
to be seen and (unlike muons) to fall fast into an orbit, each
of us around the other, both soft to the touch.

from Poets Respond
April 11, 2021


Dick Westheimer: “When I read this week of the discovery that muons wobble in such a way to show that they are encountering some heretofore unknown force, I noted how the reporter resorted to poetic language to describe the phenomena—as if ordinary language was not up to the task. I concluded that muons themselves were metaphors for more commonplace, observable phenomena—and sensed if I wrote a poem about them, I would discover what that metaphor was. I did.”

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