Tony Barnstone

Parable of the South Pole Buddha

“… the most tiny quantity of reality
ever imagined by a human being”
A physicist is stuck in a bunker at the South Pole,
freezing his burrito off, and trying to detect the rare light
given off by one in six billion neutrinos streaking through
the glacial ice, and it turns out he’s a guy I like
talking poetry with sometimes and before he zooms
to the white continent he tries to explain neutrinos to me
like a priest describing the progress of the spirit to a child.
No, they’re not that three-piece punk band
from Philadelphia, making dancers oscillate in clubs
then fall into each other like so much dark matter.
Like most of us, they have a mean life and a half life.
Like most of us they decay too fast. But here’s the wonder:
these particles are so tiny, so unaffected, they shoot
right through the planet and through us without so much
as setting an electron quivering like a dragonfly’s wing.
I wish I could do that, instead of lying in bed,
feeling gravity glue me to the indentation in the mattress,
wish I could jet right through the world
like cosmic rain, a flight of neutrinos shaped like a poet
and riding on the magic carpet of a weightless bed.
No tax forms, no lawyers, no dentists to drill
through the crown to the rot and murder the root—
just stick my face in the pillow and jellyfish through.
I try to let go of my body, to drop without a parachute,
a little Buddha, neither hot nor cold, but I can’t lift off
like my friend who’s gone to glacial nowhere
and who sets up his machines while the unseen wind
whishes by into the heart of cold, thinking
he can measure the invisible, thinking he might actually
understand what distinguishes us from nothing.

Tony Barnstone
Parable of the South Pole Buddha is from The Golem of Los Angeles (Red Hen Press, 2008; winner, Benjamin Saltman Award).