Paul Hartal

Richard Feynman's Woodpecker - Poem by Paul Hartal

Under a cloudy sky
A hammering woodpecker
Drilled and drummed
On a tree branch
With her chisel-like bill tip.

Then a physicist stepped out
Of his house into the haze
Billowing over the street.

He scratched his bald head
And brooded and pondered
Contemplated and thought
Of the opaque secret of light.

Well, he said, nowadays
Of course we already know
That light can be
Both a particle and a wave,
A stream of arcane photons
Or a recondite river of rays:
Electromagnetic radiation.

But I still
Do not understand it,
He muttered,
For this whole damned thing
Remains elusive and mysterious.

The problem is, he said,
That while sound waves
Propagate through the air
And surface waves in lakes
Or oceans travel in water,
Light can traverse through
Intergalactic nothing
Moving in straight lines
In the vacuum
Of empty space
Without a medium
As electromagnetic waves.

Now, how does this
Silly light do it?
How can it propagate
Without a medium?
And how does it know
Which way is straight?

And why is it a constant?
He asked, and nothing
Can travel faster
Than the speed of light,
That is to say almost
300,000 km per second.

And he suddenly
Remembered that once
Richard Feynman said:
Physicists do not
Really understand physics,
They just get used to it.

And so the physicist just kept
Wondering and scratching
His bald head
Under a cloudy sky.

A dense gray mist
Billowed then over the street
And a hammering woodpecker
Drilled and drummed
On a tree branch
With her chisel-like bill tip.

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Poem Submitted: Saturday, October 8, 2011

Poem Edited: Saturday, October 8, 2011

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