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C.N.P Poetry 

  • Writer's pictureCathexis Northwest Press

Schrödinger's Box, Without a Map

By: George Burns

-Schrödinger’s cat in a box is a thought experiment

that illustrates a paradox in quantum mechanics that

any two quantum states can be added together.

I think I see myself

looking out from the trees.

Someone I knew long ago.

The sound of the untamable stream

and trilling of the brook

is in my voice.

It's about who I am,

the birthday wish before the thought,

the bus coming to get me

when I was a boy, cresting the hill,

like a big dog glad

to see me.

I don't know how to say it.

I don't know if I'm in the back

or the front of the bus, or middle row.

I think I'm going forward.

I must be going forward.

It's an old and rusted metal box

and it's always on the beach on the sandy swell

splashed and tumbled daily by the sea.

Who knows when the next departure is?

It's all right,

I want to say to the driver.

But the driver's in the very back

of this bus where I sleep at night,

where there are trails down gullies,

in the mountains moss-covered boards, and

where Druids might bring this runaway

bus of everydays to the end of this line

where all my life rusted with age-spots

of fungi, scalloping through folds

of yellow orange rose purple

bruises, and the brief iridescence

of hummingbirds.

I’m a simple body,

alive or dead,

on the floor of things,

a dictionary of glad, golden

shining forth, unweaving the day,

tossing, turning between

all the never ending, the slow moving,

drifting down strata

as a light leaf falling through history

in three stanzas.

What is it that we put into words

as a galaxy of electrons

alight in a desire to catch

a bird just lifting off the

branch of non-existence, my cherry tree

there, that someone cut down

a long time ago, after we moved

out –– how I could go there

by opening

my bedroom window, and then

stretch my leg all the way over

like a grappling hook, the rest of my body

falling into its high, green arms ––

Oh joy, Meriwether wrote,

ocean in view... Doubloons of

words, and I know what to do

with them, dreams

leaving sleep in your eyes,

and those stones alongside the road...

You have walked them. You really have.

The driver in her cap, the slotted token box,

that click of coins hitting its lip — Zip,

down the throat.

And at the stranger’s smile you sway

as you hold the strap,

watching the bus slide to the curb,

the door fold open like a fan.

Small gusts of wind.

Of course,

there are mosquitos and gnats and

their drilling sound, a bouncing dance

in the squares of the slanting sun's

green-limbed lattice that is my delight.

How could I forget?

The cat is alive and purring.

To a feast with the robins, black cherries

in a pointillism of leaf and sky ––

reweaving time, and if I get up,

I lean forward, go

from one moment to the other,

yank the stop cord

that makes the bell ring,

not even a mirage, a first love like that

lasts a lifetime.


George Burns was the owner of a small company in the semiconductor industry until he retired in 2008. He has been writing short stories and poetry for more than forty years.

His short stories and poems have appeared many literary magazines, including Alaska Quarterly Review, Cathexis Northwest Press, Passengers Journal, Right Hand Pointing, The Comstock Review, The DMQ Review and The Massachusetts Review.

In 2004, his poem, "Partly Heliotropic", was the winner of the Robinson Jeffers Tor House Foundation Poetry Contest."Like One Bird Wing" was a Poem of Special Merit in Comstock Review's 2021 Muriel Craft Bailey Memorial Contest.

His first book of poems, If a Fish, was recently published by Cathexis Northwest Press.

"Writing Schrödinger's Box, Without a Map was a two step process. It began as a writing prompt: a box found on the beach. I made the box me—by becoming in it—first focusing on my age spots, then all the bruises that come with a lifetime. But I wasn't comfortable with that. I wanted room for joy. And with joy on the one hand, and bruises on the other. I realized I was Schrödinger's cat.

But that was only the first part. After I brought the poem home, I began browsing other poems I'd written about the tough things in life and the things that make hanging on worth while—using my old poems as writing prompts, if you will—finding bits and pieces of something old and integrating them with something new. It was an exciting process."

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