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I Found It Beautiful Caleb Parkin

Written by Caleb Parkin

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Science as part of culture is important to Bristol Ideas. In this new poem, City Poet Caleb Parkin writes about Paul Dirac and Bristol. One day, we hope that Bristol might celebrate Dirac as we did Brunel in 2006.

for Paul Dirac

If this poem was about you, it might
have strayed into the florid and metaphorical.
It could, perhaps, have taken issue with your
assertion that science and poetry are incompatible:
the former, making difficult things understandable;
the latter, making simple things incomprehensible.

If this poem was about you, it might have invoked
the Scale of Strangeness at subatomic and human levels:
how your colleagues at Cambridge invented a dirac,
a unit equating to one word per hour; how you’d stare
at the ceiling for five minutes, the window five more,
then reply Yes or No – and were always, always right.

If this poem was about you, it may have riffed on
the universe as multiples of a charge of the electron;
the way two times three is not the same as three times two;
on vanishing gradients; how sons can become divisible
from fathers. How, when asked how you found
your equation, you said you found it beautiful.

But I want to try to speak plainly, and to you. To be
literal more than literary. I won’t call you Sir
and respect that refusal. Take your time
replying: here is a clear window, a plain ceiling.
I will welcome your Yes or your No, try to trust you.

I’d like to know how to see beneath the surface
of matter, paint it with numbers – can you teach me?

I’d like to understand the way you wrote by thinking
the whole thing first, no editing – can you show me?

I’d like to see what it’s like to take away all
these likes, to see life only as is – can you tell me?
I know you’ll likely decline. Just as on that
cruise-liner with Heisenberg, you puzzled at why
he might dance. This is not an invitation to dance.
Nor a celebration: you always fled from those.
Not that it matters, but in this city

where you grew up, few know your name.
Unlike Schrödinger’s hypothetical pet,
yowling and clumsy in off-the-cuff
chat. You are: one street sign; a sculpture
without text. You are held in matter, precise.

This essay is taken from Our Project Was the City: Bristol Ideas 1992-2024, published May 2024.

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