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Disorientation: A Science Poem by Katie Mack

Astrophysicist Katie Mack stares up at a starry night sky Play Video

Katie Mack, assistant professor of physics, is a theoretical cosmologist who studies the connections between astrophysics and particle physics. In her poem “Disorientation,” she looks at the relationship of humans to the universe. She reads the poem in this video, and the full text is below.

Follow Mack on Twitter (@astrokatie), or visit her website.



by Katie Mack

I want to make you dizzy.

I want to make you look up into the sky and comprehend, maybe for the first time, the darkness that lies beyond the evanescent wisp of the atmosphere, the endless depths of the cosmos, a desolation by degrees.

I want the Earth to turn beneath you and knock your balance off, carry you eastward at a thousand miles an hour, into the light, and the dark, and the light again. I want you to watch the Earth rising you up to meet the rays of the morning sun.

I want the sky to stop you dead in your tracks on your walk home tonight, because you happened to glance up and among all the shining pinpricks you recognized one as of the light of an alien world.

I want you to taste the iron in your blood and see its likeness in the rust-red sands on the long dry dunes of Mars, born of the same nebular dust that coalesced random flotsam of stellar debris into rocks, oceans, your own beating heart.

I want to reach into your consciousness and cast it outward, beyond the light of other suns, to expand it like the universe, not encroaching on some envelope of emptiness, but growing larger, unfolding inside itself.

I want you to see your world from four billion miles away, a tiny glint of blue in the sharp white light of an ordinary star in the darkness. I want you to try to make out the boundaries of your nation from that vantage point, and fail.

I want you to feel it, in your bones, in your breath, when two black holes colliding a billion light years away sends a tremor through spacetime that makes every cell in your body stretch, and strain.

I want to make you nurse nostalgia for the stars long dead, the ones that fused your carbon nuclei and the ones whose last thermonuclear death throes outshined the entire galaxy to send a single photon into your eye.

I want you to live forward but see backward, farther and deeper into the past, because in a relativistic universe you don’t have any other choice. I want the stale billion-year-old starlight of a distant galaxy to be your reward.

I want to utterly disorient you and let you navigate back by the stars. I want you to lose yourself, and find it again, not just here, but everywhere, in everything.

I want you to believe that the universe is a vast, random, uncaring place, in which our species, our world, has absolutely no significance. And I want you to believe that the only response is to make our own beauty and meaning and to share it while we can.

I want to make you wonder what is out there. What dreams may come in waves of radiation across the breadth of an endless expanse. What we may know, given time, and what splendors might never, ever reach us.

I want to make it mean something to you. That you are in the cosmos. That you are of the cosmos. That you are born from stardust and to stardust you will return. That you are a way for the universe to be in awe of itself.

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  1. Thank you, Katie, for courageously crossing into the realm of the humanities, and bringing reality along. People are making meaning from the findings of science, often by corrupting the science. We need scientists to do the interpretation step, the “exegesis” from what we know to what it means, and how it can help orient us in the cosmos. You do it so beautifully! [Thanks also for the nod to Carl’s Pale Blue Dot]

  2. This touched me so deeply. As a non-religious person I find that it expressed some of my own complicated feelings and hopes about, well, “life, the universe and everything.” Thank you.

  3. May those itinerant hydrogen atoms birthed at the beginning of time, who make up most of me, carry on their eternity with a memory that I loved them.

  4. Katie
    This is fantastic. Way beyond the pale. What a magnificent show.
    Thanks so much for sharing. ❤️

  5. Wonderful, expansive, poetic, awesome…Perhaps, as addition to the last paragraph “..that you are an inseparable conscious partner with The Universe, creating Itself…”
    Please keep on-Science in Its language is of course another poetic approach to the underlying ineffable Truth, but your unearthing of a heartfelt knowingness is so beautiful and necessary.

  6. And Katie Mack’s reading of it makes it that much more powerful. I am grateful to be on the planet when this wise woman is on it as well. Katie you bless us all.

  7. Oh! I just can’t thank you enough Katie Mack! That poem moves me more than any scriptures I have ever studied. You have blessed me deeply. Thank you Wise Woman.

  8. This brings me to tears! I love it so much I heard an excerpt on the radio and it took me forever to find it I’m so glad I was persistent!

  9. What inspiring and beautiful thoughts you give us.
    I agree totally with Chris Payne. Keep searching and sharing your thoughts with us.
    You are a gift. Thank you.

  10. Beautifully written. As deep and vast as space and time.
    Science is not a truth teller. Nor is anything else. But this poetic description of is-ness, is perhaps as close as it can get. Many thanks, Katie.

  11. I want to revolve around this poem as the planets around the sun
    Or the whipped frenzy of a cyclone on earth
    I want to stare at beauty as a scientist through a telescope
    Or stare at the only source of light in an eclipse.
    As a paramecium I would traverse through infinite spaces
    Or as blue whale, the entire ocean searching for this.
    Like a tardigrade my existence and love for this will never be tardy.

  12. I want to embrace the cosmos as you show me
    I want to be dizzy in this Earth,
    with tremors of the same frequency as nebular dust
    I want to retard from the sun, to witness the universe,
    And look past every lunar eclipse, to that vantage point shall I traverse,
    But of course my soul not noble enough to fly through empty spaces without the guidance of your words.

  13. I want you to carry on writing and talking about our universe.

    I want you to carry on inspiring others to look up and wonder.

    I want to lose myself in the thoughts and utter cold beauty of the universe.

    Most of all, I want to thank you for bringing the immeasurable and unknowable to my attention.