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.

From Beast in the Apartment (Sheep Meadow Press, 2014) by Tony Barnstone. Copyright © 2014 by Tony Barnstone. Used with the permission of the author.