Average: 3 (1 vote)
Your rating: None

Blood was blood once, then it was less so, then a broth of snow and dust.  What remains yearns and dies likewise, but with rapture in contours less steeped.  What’s left is what has survived.  No measure of mercy or pity in these; they are brash and direct.  And in this they refresh.  Us.  We watch them, that is. 
            Lithe and swift, the tall one plies its advantage.  Down it flies off its rock and attacks. The squat one, unsurprised, does the head-tuck routine, baring its armor-plates, spikes; it expels the awkward perfume.  The tall one tosses its jointed head, shudders.  Then rears, volleying its rain of fist-knives on the plate-crack where the squat head should be. 
            We who gather here, watching (we who are no one, and someone, and many) still feel the wanting, each echo and reverberant wave.  There’s no willing wanting away; just pausing to see.  We pause.  We witness the struggle.  This side, that side, squat, tall, better, best.  When the wanting is gone so are we. 
            The squat one jerks, rolls into Tall.  Tall buckles.  Hissing and rasping, Squat and Tall grapple.  Teeth and toenails engage.  In the red dust cloud they raise past and future collide, while is cradles all, expecting nothing.
            One of the we of us watching, nearest, most intersecting, most tuned to the me in the we that is speaking—the one humming green wants and not-wants at the same pitch as me, as the me that is we that is nobody.  Pitch, frequency, cross-emanation: more blurring, easing, corresponding in kind, crests in waves impossibly like, exactly mine in some other signature.  We see through identical eyes, we who are eyeless, formless, here and not-here.  The I that is me in the we has known Green in some strain or song since before we began and there is no beginning.  But the me keeping me from the we disallows, or repels, beholding the battle, the gasping dust, engaging Green.  There’s that infinitesimal pull.  That jar in timbre, fiber ill-wound in the forever unwinding.  The I willing to know Green as Green and as me will give and give, yes.  But will not give in. 
We take in the struggle.  The armor and furor, the toenails and teeth.  Squat and Tall flailing, heaving, upending.  Over blasted stumps and outcrops they clatter, over the dry river and pit of cinders.  A spike snaps on Squat’s back.  The sharp crack registers.  In us.  In the glow that is Green and me that is we.  The crack a new note, it would seem.  A note needed.  Catastrophic.  Exquisite.  Extreme.  Between us no words, but there is speaking. 
            —As was will is.
            —Will is was.
            —Is as is as all is.
            —Is will is.
            —Is is.
             Our no-word words coalesce as what happens happens.  We unreel the unthinkable all, liquid life after life, backstroking streaming mirage, billboards and bone yards and ash, cattails and meals of calliope berries, dukedoms, fiefdoms, cantatas and pea pods, pockets of cactus, pockets of space, stones piled on walls on high hills where geese drag their shadows over seas of red mud.  It’s neither Green nor me thinking but both, none: the thinking thinking itself.  What is it that comes?  What comes of willing not-wanting, pausing to see?  What shift, what surpassing or coming to pass, what completed, done? 
No saying.  What might a flower say from its fistful of dust? 
If we’d known we knew what we knew there’d have been no cause to begin.  No movement, no meeting, no battle, no puzzle, no knowing by feeling or need to dissolve, nor eyes nor ears, nor dream to wake from, no journeying home. 
         We move along.  Far, far along.  This measure, this sojourn, this nocturne is done.  But Green is not gone and I am not gone, transmuted, tendered.  Nothing is empty because nothing is empty with all and all is flux.  Gone and not gone, we feel each cell still and corpuscle, each grimace, each blow Squat and Tall barter.  The contest continues.  Each straining forward to undertake more, and know more again, an eye missing here, an ear there, a severed limb leaking black blood.

About the Author: 
Kirk Nesset is author of Paradise Road and Mr. Agreeable (fiction), as well as Saint X (poetry), Alphabet of the World (translation), and The Stories Of Raymond Carver (nonfiction). His work has appeared in The Paris Review, Southern Review, Kenyon Review, Ploughshares and elsewhere. He teaches at Allegheny College.

Newsletter Signup

Submit your email address so we can send you occasional competition updates and tell you who wins!

Quantum Theories

B is for ... Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC)

At extremely low temperatures, quantum rules mean that atoms can come together and behave as if they are one giant super-atom.

R is for ... Radioactivity

The atoms of a radioactive substance break apart, emitting particles. It is impossible to predict when the next particle will be emitted as it happens at random. All we can do is give the probability that any particular atom will have decayed by a given time.

U is for ... Uncertainty Principle

One of the most famous ideas in science, this declares that it is impossible to know all the physical attributes of a quantum particle or system simultaneously.

D is for ... Dice

Albert Einstein decided quantum theory couldn’t be right because its reliance on probability means everything is a result of chance. “God doesn’t play dice with the world,” he said.

G is for ... Gravity

Our best theory of gravity no longer belongs to Isaac Newton. It’s Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. There’s just one problem: it is incompatible with quantum theory. The effort to tie the two together provides the greatest challenge to physics in the 21st century.

O is for ... Objective reality

Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, said there is no such thing as objective reality. All we can talk about, he said, is the results of measurements we make.

J is for ... Josephson Junction

This is a narrow constriction in a ring of superconductor. Current can only move around the ring because of quantum laws; the apparatus provides a neat way to investigate the properties of quantum mechanics.

M is for ... Multiverse

Our most successful theories of cosmology suggest that our universe is one of many universes that bubble off from one another. It’s not clear whether it will ever be possible to detect these other universes.

T is for ... Tunnelling

This happens when quantum objects “borrow” energy in order to bypass an obstacle such as a gap in an electrical circuit. It is possible thanks to the uncertainty principle, and enables quantum particles to do things other particles can’t.

X is for ... X-ray

In 1923 Arthur Compton shone X-rays onto a block of graphite and found that they bounced off with their energy reduced exactly as would be expected if they were composed of particles colliding with electrons in the graphite. This was the first indication of radiation’s particle-like nature.

V is for ... Virtual particles

Quantum theory’s uncertainty principle says that since not even empty space can have zero energy, the universe is fizzing with particle-antiparticle pairs that pop in and out of existence. These “virtual” particles are the source of Hawking radiation.

B is for ... Bell's Theorem

In 1964, John Bell came up with a way of testing whether quantum theory was a true reflection of reality. In 1982, the results came in – and the world has never been the same since!

S is for ... Schrödinger Equation

This is the central equation of quantum theory, and describes how any quantum system will behave, and how its observable qualities are likely to manifest in an experiment.

Y is for ... Young's Double Slit Experiment

In 1801, Thomas Young proved light was a wave, and overthrew Newton’s idea that light was a “corpuscle”.

W is for ... Wave-particle duality

It is possible to describe an atom, an electron, or a photon as either a wave or a particle. In reality, they are both: a wave and a particle.

N is for ... Nonlocality

When two quantum particles are entangled, it can also be said they are “nonlocal”: their physical proximity does not affect the way their quantum states are linked.

A is for ... Atom

This is the basic building block of matter that creates the world of chemical elements – although it is made up of more fundamental particles.

I is for ... Interferometer

Some of the strangest characteristics of quantum theory can be demonstrated by firing a photon into an interferometer: the device’s output is a pattern that can only be explained by the photon passing simultaneously through two widely-separated slits.

C is for ... Cryptography

People have been hiding information in messages for millennia, but the quantum world provides a whole new way to do it.

D is for ... Decoherence

Unless it is carefully isolated, a quantum system will “leak” information into its surroundings. This can destroy delicate states such as superposition and entanglement.

A is for ... Alice and Bob

In quantum experiments, these are the names traditionally given to the people transmitting and receiving information. In quantum cryptography, an eavesdropper called Eve tries to intercept the information.

R is for ... Reality

Since the predictions of quantum theory have been right in every experiment ever done, many researchers think it is the best guide we have to the nature of reality. Unfortunately, that still leaves room for plenty of ideas about what reality really is!

K is for ... Kaon

These are particles that carry a quantum property called strangeness. Some fundamental particles have the property known as charm!

C is for ... Computing

The rules of the quantum world mean that we can process information much faster than is possible using the computers we use now.

R is for ... Randomness

Unpredictability lies at the heart of quantum mechanics. It bothered Einstein, but it also bothers the Dalai Lama.

T is for ... Teleportation

Quantum tricks allow a particle to be transported from one location to another without passing through the intervening space – or that’s how it appears. The reality is that the process is more like faxing, where the information held by one particle is written onto a distant particle.

L is for ... Light

We used to believe light was a wave, then we discovered it had the properties of a particle that we call a photon. Now we know it, like all elementary quantum objects, is both a wave and a particle!

Q is for ... Qubit

One quantum bit of information is known as a qubit (pronounced Q-bit). The ability of quantum particles to exist in many different states at once means a single quantum object can represent multiple qubits at once, opening up the possibility of extremely fast information processing.

I is for ... Information

Many researchers working in quantum theory believe that information is the most fundamental building block of reality.

P is for ... Probability

Quantum mechanics is a probabilistic theory: it does not give definite answers, but only the probability that an experiment will come up with a particular answer. This was the source of Einstein’s objection that God “does not play dice” with the universe.

S is for ... Schrödinger’s Cat

A hypothetical experiment in which a cat kept in a closed box can be alive and dead at the same time – as long as nobody lifts the lid to take a look.

M is for ... Many Worlds Theory

Some researchers think the best way to explain the strange characteristics of the quantum world is to allow that each quantum event creates a new universe.

F is for ... Free Will

Ideas at the heart of quantum theory, to do with randomness and the character of the molecules that make up the physical matter of our brains, lead some researchers to suggest humans can’t have free will.

W is for ... Wavefunction

The mathematics of quantum theory associates each quantum object with a wavefunction that appears in the Schrödinger equation and gives the probability of finding it in any given state.

H is for ... Hidden Variables

One school of thought says that the strangeness of quantum theory can be put down to a lack of information; if we could find the “hidden variables” the mysteries would all go away.

S is for ... Superposition

Quantum objects can exist in two or more states at once: an electron in superposition, for example, can simultaneously move clockwise and anticlockwise around a ring-shaped conductor.

H is for ... Hawking Radiation

In 1975, Stephen Hawking showed that the principles of quantum mechanics would mean that a black hole emits a slow stream of particles and would eventually evaporate.

U is for ... Universe

To many researchers, the universe behaves like a gigantic quantum computer that is busy processing all the information it contains.

G is for ... Gluon

These elementary particles hold together the quarks that lie at the heart of matter.

Q is for ... Quantum biology

A new and growing field that explores whether many biological processes depend on uniquely quantum processes to work. Under particular scrutiny at the moment are photosynthesis, smell and the navigation of migratory birds.

Z is for ... Zero-point energy

Even at absolute zero, the lowest temperature possible, nothing has zero energy. In these conditions, particles and fields are in their lowest energy state, with an energy proportional to Planck’s constant.

A is for ... Act of observation

Some people believe this changes everything in the quantum world, even bringing things into existence.

P is for ... Planck's Constant

This is one of the universal constants of nature, and relates the energy of a single quantum of radiation to its frequency. It is central to quantum theory and appears in many important formulae, including the Schrödinger Equation.

L is for ... Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

At CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, this machine is smashing apart particles in order to discover their constituent parts and the quantum laws that govern their behaviour.

E is for ... Entanglement

When two quantum objects interact, the information they contain becomes shared. This can result in a kind of link between them, where an action performed on one will affect the outcome of an action performed on the other. This “entanglement” applies even if the two particles are half a universe apart.