The iron from blood

Artist depiction of a Magnetar – ESO

Neutron star - “a celestial object of very small radius (typically 18 miles/30 km) and very high density, composed predominantly of closely packed neutrons. Neutron stars are thought to form by the gravitational collapse of the remnant of a massive star after a supernova explosion, provided that the star is insufficiently massive to produce a black hole.”
Magnetar - “A magnetar is a type of neutron star believed to have an extremely powerful magnetic field. The magnetic-field decay powers the emission of high-energy electromagnetic radiation, particularly X-rays and gamma rays. The theory regarding these objects was proposed in 1992 by Robert Duncan and Christopher Thompson”

I read once that a magnetar’s magnetic field is so strong it could pull the iron out of your blood from a thousand miles away. It frightened and thrilled me to consider that sort of power. The Cosmos is an unimaginably vast sea full of silent and efficient machines churning and devouring.

I’ve seen people address the universe as if it is some benevolent being with their best interests in mind. “I asked the universe…” they say.

If asked, the universe would answer by atomizing, then ionizing the matter that comprises you.

Existence is the exception, not the rule.

Though the universe may not be vengeful, it is apathetic. That is somehow more frightening as we hurl blindly through space.

We cannot command the universe, bend it to our will, or expect it to be considerate of our desires. What we can do is acknowledge the source of that iron in our blood, the way it was formed.

Over billions of years, as a star burns through its gaseous fuel, it fuses it into heavier elements until finally it produces iron. Iron is the death knell. Iron causes a collapse. This collapse causes a supernova.

The star killing elements are then ejected into space, carried over light years, and deposited in places it can be used to produce complex matter like the blood in your veins.

It is not the universe’s will that you get the job you’ve been hoping for, the love you’ve given reciprocated or that you even exist. But you are part of a stellar life cycle. A sentient artifact of the universe itself. The bloom in the ruin.

Oh.

So, I’m reading about the potential end to theoretical particle physics. One quote struck me about the discovery of the Higgs Boson:

“According to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, the Higgs Field should either have a value of zero which would not give particles mass, or it should have an extremely great value which is likely to give particles too much mass.

But this is where physicists are confused.

Instead of viewing a value of either extremely high or non-existent, experts have noticed that the Higgs field is just slightly on”, which is not as low or high as it should be.

Mr Cliff said: “It’s not zero, but it’s ten-thousand-trillion times weaker than it’s fully on value — a bit like a light switch that got stuck just before the ‘off’ position.”

Oh.

The article went on to mention dark energy predictions and potentially proving the multiverse theory to account for such wide variations, other universes having either too much mass or none at all, never coalescing or collapsing under their own weight.

Oh.

How many times
Have you fucking felt
Like a light switch that
Got stuck just before the off position?

Just slightly on

Ten thousand trillion times weaker than your fully on value

And you still manage to hold it all together.

On Being Glass

Glass is a state of matter somewhere between solid and liquid. Its what’s called an amorphous solid. Glass flows, just achingly slowly. Over eons. While the atoms are more organized than a liquid, they are less organized than a solid. It is not molecularly rigid. It doesn’t crystalize. The molecules will, over vast amounts of time, shift to a more organized state.

But this is not why window panes of medieval cathedrals bulge at the bottom. It is not an allegory for withstanding time, or grace, or bending with the pull of gravity. It is not a study on slow surrender. The bulge has to do with how it was made, and it would take longer than the universe has existed to reorganize itself that way.

Glass breaks. It is still just as much a victim to the entropy trapped inside of it as we are. If there is any allegory to be had, its that we too can shatter when enough force is applied. Accepting the fact that we break is more powerful than pretending we don’t.

We are fragile beings who deserve careful handling. From ourselves and others.

The long walk.

Time is considered the fourth dimension. A force of nature. It is also interwoven with the fabric of space, warped and wobbled by the gravity of heavy celestial objects.

Loss makes us acutely aware of the passage of time, the weight of it like water pouring over us and carrying us away.

The last time I saw my father is at a fixed point in spacetime. That moment hangs suspended, immovable, immutable, and a part of me with it. We have sped away from that point at 130 miles per second for 18 years.

We are now 73794240000 miles from the last I love you. The Milky Way flung from the singularity, inexplicably, irrevocably.

Loss leaves us separated not only by time but an unfathomable distance. My grief, our grief is the long walk back.

Arcturus

Arcturus by EPOD of USRA

When you stare at the stars long enough they start to do this silly little swim. For a moment, maybe a millisecond, you believe what you’re seeing is true. Your heart jumps and you rub your eyes and you try to refocus them. What did I see? Why? Between one star and another, you see that there has been no change in distance or location. You breathe deep. You may be still, but you are always making micro movements. Your heartbeat, inhale and exhale of your lungs. Your body is a chorus of stirring. Stillness is just another state of movement. Logically you know this. But your mind keeps being dragged back to that initial feeling of belief. because it exhilarates you. Because you want to make a home in the feeling. Fires in a Black Sea swirling just for you.

Of course you want more. You always want more. so you are drawn to believe what your eyes have told your mind they see. You wait and you stare and you speak softly to yourself: “this is Arcturus.” It is fixed. A landmark. You’ve aimed telescopes and your heart toward it for years. For ages before you, there have been legends, poems, splendid things inspired by the light it gives. Eons before human existence, unseen, unloved, it never ceased it’s shimmering. 37 light years. 11 parsecs separate you. But it dances and you’re dizzy in your foolishness and love and it suddenly feels within reach. A living thing. It breathes. Maybe you’ve dipped your longing in and stirred the sky. What hubris. Van Gogh knew what I mean.

You can suddenly perceive the spinning, the roll of the earth along the path it has carved in spacetime, Falling toward the sun. And how we sail blindly. All of it. Ever expanding outward. How it has started to decay. Moving ever toward entropy, half as luminous as it was 2 billion years ago. Lights slowly going out one by one. A carnival at closing time. Your minuscule life laughably short. An iota. A grain of time.

And what if it has already collapsed in on itself? Arcturus. The guardian. The last gasps still hurdling toward us, 370,000 years late. Corpse light in a haunted sky.

Nothing lasts. Rather than being dismal, this is heartening. It elicits bravery.

I will love in full measure.

I will love in full measure when it is returned and even when none is given me.

Eppur si muove.

A Dirge for the Barely There

You were more than
A trail of blood,
More than the fires
That forged the iron in it.
Weak gravity
And heavy elements.
Eons in the æther
Before you came to me.
You were more than
These filaments,
Proton and electron
And the atoms they knit,
And in that great
Undying place,
Where we will not
Be created nor destroyed,
May we one day collide
And know we knew
And shared
The same space,
Though you were barely there
And I only just.

-MJG 2021

Empty and desolate is the sea.

I buried you

In the marrow

Of my bones.

I carry you

In this wreckage.

This derelict

Body full of

Curses and portents,

Salted wounds and

Blood in the water,

Tall ships on

Strange shores.

Satellites in

Perpetual free fall

Following stars

Named for

Blasphemed

Gods,

All their supplicants

And temples

Long since consumed

By fire

Or by moorland

Drowned

And exhumed

A cuneiform adorned

Tomb

-MJG 2021

Tracks and Traces

Shigir Idol, photo by Constantin Voutsen

Have you ever heard of the Shigir Idol? It’s a 17 foot wooden statue that has been carbon dated to about 12,000 years old. Roughly at the end of the last ice age. Its named for the peat bog it was found in, on the eastern slope of the Middle Ural mountains near Yekaterinburg. It’s a striking sculpture, featuring several human faces and geometric lines and shapes. After being microscopically studied, it was discovered that the Shigir Idol’s features and designs were carved with half a beaver jaw with teeth still intact.

Since reading about the Shigir idol, I’ve been running my fingers over the grooves in my mind. Over and over again, tracing the carefully carved lines, feeling the smooth wood, stopping at every angle and turn. A prayer of sorts. A map leading backward. Veins. Beckoning mountain ranges and lakes and forests. An unimpeded night sky full of constellations. I wonder if it was meant for that. I wonder if, 12,000 years ago, the people responsible for creating it could fathom my doing so? I think they did. I think they meant for us to. It feels arrogant to make assumptions. Almost sacriledge.

The face at the “head” of the idol is placid, peaceful and seems to be singing. or breathing into the cold air. Or pleading. Or any number of things. But it is undeniably human.

I think about 12,000 years in the bog. The murky dark cast about with scattered sunlight only occasionally. The moss and the rock. The sediment. The sediment that drowned and preserved it. An ancient lake gasping. A toppled giant forever asleep. Why are tears so close when I do so? Why am I so moved? Why is it so easy to feel the weight of the clay and the water?

I feel a sort of kinship with both the Shigir Idol and the artists who created it. An eternal reaching forward. Toothed beaver jaw, warm wood, calloused hands. Shaped and molded, tracks and traces, whispered truths and prayers. Nightmares and daydreams. Falling. Sinking. Turning to stone unseen. 12,000 years undreaming. Hieroglyph after hieroglyph. Surfacing in pieces. Messages and lessons in the lesions.