Elaine Jarvest Miller
IN A UNIVERSITY LIBRARY
9th November 2016
I am thinking of the fall of Empires,
barbarians at the gates,
The Chinese student is new,
I help her locate a book.
The Australian post-grad
is searching our online journals.
I think of Bede’s library at Jarrow,
the Viking raiders, screams and flames.
A girl in a denim burqa and thick boots
explores the history section.
Outside, the rain is falling.
The face of the Albanian student lights up
when I find the pamphlet he’s been looking for,
about the excavation of a Roman town in Wales.
I think of how civilisations wax and wane.
How things are buried, then dug up again.
I think of our students.
I think of the monks at Jarrow,
and of a single candle flame.
How you can read and write and teach by its light,
and kindle new candles from it,
again and again and again.
Half a mile under the sea,
people are listening.
Above ground, there’s a genteel seaside town,
North-East England, bracing breeze.
Down here, in the depths of a mine,
background radiation is blocked out
by layers of rock-salt,
formed by the evaporation of an ancient sea.
It’s one of the quiet places of the earth,
so they listen,
hoping to find what’s missing.
When scientists weighed the universe,
measured the spin of galaxies,
they discovered that eighty-five percent
of what the laws of physics say must exist,
can’t be seen.
So they started searching.
As I speak, below the sea,
in a gas-filled Time Projection Chamber,
they are trying to catch the streaming particles.
Graphs are generated daily,
like the beating of a healthy heart on an ECG.
They’re waiting for a spike on the chart,
listening for the first ‘ping’ from the machine
that will say: we’ve found one.
They’ve been listening for twenty years.
I know that you understand this.
You have no difficulty believing that every second,
millions of unseen particles
stream through your fingers.
You feel the gravitational pull
of the missing eighty-five percent.
You have constructed your own
Time Projection Chamber.
You know the searching,
You know about listening
in rock-salt caves,
formed by an evaporated sea.
Copyright © Elaine Jarvest Miller 2017
Originally from Surrey, Elaine Jarvest Miller has lived in Dawlish for 15 years, and is involved in several Devon poetry groups. Her pamphlet The Angel in My Underwear was published by Acumen in 2013. She has been published in The Broadsheet and is a collaborator in the Trios Art project, which will be touring galleries in 2017.