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Curie in Love

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

My poetry is an important part of my writing, but of course not as well known as my fiction. Such is poetry. Because journals are now wanting to see only poems which have not appeared on websites, etc, I will mostly be putting on my blog a few of those poems which have already appeared elsewhere. I will wait a bit so as not to undercut the journals, and credit them nicely.

This is one of my new favorites, and part of a series -- maybe even a book? -- which I'm working on about science and scientists. The lines in italics here are direct quotations from Curie's writing.


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