The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Language in Special Relativity

by Jessica Reed


Parting: from your perspective on the train, from mine
on the platform. I claim your clocks tick slow, are out
of sync with each other. We agree that my clock
struck noon, just not about when my noon happened.
Tongues, spineless, investigate the external world,
or speak silent equations—guesses, formal and
systematic. Here are kettledrums and brass bells
reverberating, but only light can keep up
with the mind. The objects on the tip of my tongue
usher in parts of speech. Crucial pieces: your, my,
simultaneous, happened, perceive—the violence

of event. Let’s try to describe: a flash occurred,
just once. (“There is something seductive about these
quantities that do not change from one reference frame
to the next.”) Point, radial lines, sphere. Spectacle,
light spreading, everywhere un-splintered and seamless.
What time in my frame did fireworks ignite? What time
in yours? Dilated—more, elapsed. Language comes in
handy: earlier, later, a preposition:
to you, to me. When your clock read 12 noon, my clock
read 12:06. Each, respective. We need our words;
pointing, indispensable. Math, as though lifted.

JESSICA REED‘s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Crazyhorse; Conjunctions; North American Review; Waxwing; 111O; Tinderbox Poetry Journal; Spiral Orb; The Fourth River; Kudzu House Quarterly; and Isotope: A Journal of Literary Nature and Science Writing. She currently teaches a Physics and the Arts seminar at Butler University. She has an MFA in poetry and a BS in physics, both from Purdue University, and lives in Indiana with her husband and chickens.