Atom, Cathedral

Jessica Reed


                                  Make a fist, and if your fist is as big as the nucleus of an atom,

                                  then the atom is as big as St Paul’s, and if it happens to be a

                                  hydrogen atom, then it has a single electron flitting about like a

                                  moth in an empty cathedral, now by the dome, now by the altar.

                                                                                                             —Tom Stoppard


Open your mouth, and if

your mouth is as dark

as an oil slick,

then the moths in your mouth

will wing against your teeth…


I only want to say one true thing.


With the moon as reference, a moth

flies straight. Perhaps our false moonlight

strips away that optical infinity,

or its search for nectar undoes it:

ultraviolet light reflected off flowers

draws the nocturnal moth. Either way,

it beats around near candle or lamp

in confusion, not desire.


Open your mouth, make a fist.


This is physics: to a nameless intellect

we pray, in that vast moth-filled colonnade.

Descriptive equations rise like smoke

from an altar and we witness

the electronic structure of the atom,

the tangled shapes,

the many geographies of now by the dome,

here in atom cathedral.


How strange, to make a fist and if.





Jessica Reed's previous work has appeared or is forthcoming in Kudzu House Quarterly; The Fourth River; Isotope: A Journal of Literary Nature and Science Writing; and symmetry: dimensions of particle physics. She has an MFA in poetry and a BS in physics, both from Purdue University. She lives in Indiana, managing a several acre homestead.