Disorientation: A Science Poem by Katie Mack

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.

11 responses on “Disorientation: A Science Poem by Katie Mack

  1. Shana McAlexander says:

    I cried. Thank you for creating this!

  2. Rachana Gupta says:

    Very very beautiful !! Made me think about my existence in this vast Universe !!

  3. Schroedinger says:

    Beautiful – thank you for sharing

  4. Christy says:

    Very moving. Thank you.

  5. David says:

    Thank you Katie

    The universe is ours. We can lay claim, probe with our senses, our flagstaffs and best, our wandering minds. We must expand our intellect, our ken and our DNA to find, see, touch, weep and never return to what gave us birth and to become children once again, but this time, of the Universe.

    The way is opening. Our sights are fixed on stellar beacons that becon, not to us, for we are but a sprinkling of random sweepings cast toward all dimensions, nearly now, a way only the odesseys of time will ever know. Ultimate evolutions are strewn before us, should we care to see where they take us of little meaning, becoming a part of the unknown as we have always been.

    When we arrive it will no longer be we who know or care since what we will have become will be of but random value in a entropic cosmos forever swallowed by gigantic exhalations of forgotten space-time. Will we be home then and weary from our travels? Likely not, or equally likely, yes. By then, perhaps, we will have passed understanding into being, beyond the beyond and one with newly spun space-time.

  6. aileen says:

    Thank you for sharing! I am so delighted in reading this poem and enjoying the wonderfulness of the cosmos at the same time.

  7. Meng says:

    Thank you for creating such a wonderful piece. Love the seamless interweaving of science and poetry, and how it piques curiosity and stirs emotions.

  8. Bruce Dickson says:

    Quite beautiful
    Thank you for sharing this. It speaks so eloquently of why I studied physics.

  9. Ulises Ruiz says:

    Oh my, you shook my soul, am awash in emotions. Love science and appreciate you sharing this poem. Am going to share with my peers . Thank You again .

  10. Tiago Cruz says:

    Wonderful! What led you to it? Did you think it was time for an “update/upgrade” of Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot? Thanks for sharing!

  11. paul dolan says:

    Remember, Desiderata, “You are a child of the universe.”
    GO PLACIDLY amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

    Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

    Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

    Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

    Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

    Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.

    Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

    Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

    Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

    And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

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