There’s a scientific lampoon posturing the unknown-unknown—
That is, the things we do not know we don’t know, angling
Our known-knowns, and our known-unknowns. Pauli’s was a mystery neutrino,
The smallest of small material, without mass, and superluminal. He sensed
Its presence in every laboured, secretive tryst in the lab. He could know
Its properties, its magic. All he had to do was prove it.
He is known to have said of the neutrino, and with a wide
Smile, “Its beauty is so immense, or rather, my feeling for it so beautiful,
As to cause in me the most persistent, most intense unrest,
The magnitude of which allows me no peace.” Later he wrote, “I am tired
Of looking. I have lost the confidence that it will, that it can, be found,”
Sighed, I can only imagine, with thorough exhaustion.
On anxious nights I whisper, Pauli, sometimes I drink myself to sleep
Like you. I have also tugged at loose hair, administering a small pain
Amidst the waves of pleasure, to prove to myself that all beauty
Is ugly too, that all desire is fear, and that all answers are the frictive
Birth of all new questions. When I sense I have gained his trust,
I move quickly to the point, and gently:
Pauli, how did it feel to learn that your known-unknown
Was finally a known-known? His answer is different every time.
But last night, after your rough exit from me and from our bed,
When your footsteps were gone at the end of the hall,
I heard him. The truth is, how it felt is a long story,
And it is late, and you are tired. You have been tired for far too long.
Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, across
The street as I wait for the bus in the dark,
I see you on the second floor, naked, illuminated
Only by the dim glow of your computer screen.
We are several months in, and I still can’t help
But to board the bus and monitor the gazes of others,
Braced if one so much as glances your way.
If you asked me what was wrong, I couldn’t tell you.
But it’s not unlike that driftwood-lined image
Of thirty-two or thirty-three long-finned pilot whales
Beached, horizontal, Indian-file, along the shore
Of the Farewell Spit in Golden Bay.
Their round bodies reflecting every blinding sunbeam,
Every insane act of jaw-dropping devotion.
Amber McMillan lives and teaches in Toronto, Canada. She enjoys writing poetry and short stories and has two poems forthcoming in the spring issue of fwriction:review.