We Talk Physics into the Night - Poem by Dick Allen

We Talk Physics into the Night
by Dick Allen

“Nothing is finished,” Ye Feng says. “We’re going after nothing,
bending its wavelengths, breaking across its borders
as if it were something one hangs out to dry
or beats with a paddle. It’s like Zen,” he says,
“so filled with paradoxes that it jumps through hoops
that aren’t even there.” He sighs,
his fifth beer going flat. At twenty-nine,
Ye Feng already knows his life is flying into particles,
antisite disorders, temperature dependencies,
superparamagnetic clusters with at least two sizes of moments
but no heavy-fermion behavior. “It’s all optics,” he says,
“or our Great Wall of China, which often isn’t present
even when you’re walking it.” Beijing,
the black-and-white cat my wife and I have named
in honor of the birth city of the Fengs,
has utterly disappeared into the basement
or a black hole. On the mantelpiece,
the green-and-silver clock chimes 2:00 a.m.—another
twist of perception: how very late at night it’s also early morning
and vice versa. “Minneapolis,” says Ye Feng.
“My company’s moving me to Minneapolis.”
Outside the open window behind the couch,
a slight wind lazes through the dark, its passing
marked only by reactions of red maple leaves
and the soft tilting of grass and weeds. It’s nothing,
we say—at this late or early hour too tired or drunk
to be conscious of sounding clever—a shoulder
on the higher binding energy side of the main peak,
a local moment. How pretentious we sound,
even to ourselves, how arrogant, how sincere!

Source: The Georgia Review, Fall 2003.