Lessons in Atomic Theory
by Molly Manafo
Today I am practicing
how to touch something
without touching it.
My science teacher says nothing is
ever truly touching because of how electrons
in atoms repel each other.
When I place my hand on the table,
it is really the atoms of my hand
pressing up against the atoms
of the wood, then pushing back,
their electrons afraid
to circle too close to one another.
What looks like closeness
is still filled with distance,
on an atomic scale.
But does that mean I have never been held?
According to my science teacher,
the majority of everything is nothing.
We are made up of that space
between atoms, stretching out
like fields inside of us.
When you die, are you more
or less nothing than before?
The dog barks at thin air
and sometimes he wakes up at night
and his eyes dart, searching for you
in the empty dark.
I am filled with these same useless impulses:
to listen for your cough,
to look up when the floor creaks
for you to enter the room,
to wonder why the garage light is off, when you are supposed to be there?
I wrap the box of ashes in your scarf
and when I touch the fabric
and the garage smells like cigarette smoke
and I close my eyes so I cannot see
what is not there—
I am touching just as much nothing
as when you hugged me before.