Faith Cole

The spine of my physics textbook cracks
as I open this cold-blooded companion
that I love to hate. 

The Atomic Structure of Matter 
titles the chapter 
that I have been assigned 
and am now resigned to reading. 

Restless, I try to make myself contented
on the pale pink couch. 
Waves of frustration roll and find voice in deep sighs.
Why do I need to read this? 
What’s the purpose? 

protons, electrons, and neutrons–
make up everything. 
What else do I need to know? 

The stale facts of the obvious 
stick to the roof of my brain, 
sucking out enthusiasm. 

I scan the page, 
my fluorescent highlighter in hand, 
ready to strike 
at anything daring enough to leap out at me.

Zooming out to a high, philosophical viewpoint
leaves me disconcerted and intrigued. 
I know that atoms make up nature but 
do I know the nature of those atoms? 

Conservation of mass dictates that 
atoms are ageless. 
Whatever they actually are 
can never be destroyed, only recycled. 

Something that has existed 
from the very creation 
of the universe 
lives in me. 

Mixing and swirling around, atoms are passed from one use to another. 
The breath that I breathe, 
after a few years, will be evenly blended into the atmosphere 
and what was part of me 
will be part of supplying another’s breath. 

Exhaling, as I read 
that there are as many atoms in that breath as there as breathfuls of air in our world, seems only appropriate. 

As I consider what I thought I knew, I bow my head, humbled 
to realize these building blocks of all I know — of you and me — 
are incomprehensibly small.

Scaling the idea that 
you are as many times larger 
than an atom 
than the average star is larger 
than you 
leaves me breathless and awestruck. 

Smiling, I look up 
and imagine us 
between the atoms and the stars. 

Source: Hewitt, P. G. (2015). Conceptual physics (12th ed.). Harlow, Essex: Pearson Education Limited.