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.

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