Brownian Motion

Universal restlessness begins with Brownian motion. 
The inanimate moves, he notices with a shiver 
of excitement. But his pollen and sphinx powder 
are forgotten for many years (as happens to the dead). 
The idea is suspended in a microscopic ocean until 
1905. Einstein writes a beautiful paper about speed 
and distance, proving the existence of atoms. 
I am shaky in my knowledge of atoms. 
A good metaphor helps me see their motion 
(I remember protons and nuclei) it speeds 
my understanding as does an anecdotal shiver. 
I try to apply atoms to Barthes’ lexia until 
it became apparent that text is not a powder 
to be peered at through a lens. It isn’t dead 
enough. Its movement is not dead 
energy but the life of minds, many atoms 
making sense of complex signs. ‘Powder’ 
heats in relation to my emotion 
and experience — cocaine, baking, baby — until 
it expands with meaning. Speed 
is essential if I want that shiver 
of context racing through me. The shiver 
of a poked raindrop, men scared to death, 
earthquakes, horses at speed — 
I know none of these are identical to atomic 
jiggling. I was so ignorant until 
today, when all became powder. 
Room, table, window, chair —all in motion, 
in unison, flinching like tickled skin. Motion 
I imagined but didn’t see, under my feet, shivering, 
in my feet, of my feet, powder, 
sliding serendipitously. Even the dead — 
underground and remembered — moving until 
everything else stops, until every speed 
halts. I know little about atoms 
but atoms, 
I understand, are quite reliable. Motion, 
too, ubiquitous. The speed 
of sound and light, birds, shivering 
atoms, seem stable too until 
I consider history, men, baking powder — 
other probabilities that let me down. 
But, there are always consolations in death 
to count on; our spirits down 
until we notice the shivering atoms, 
the motion in dead powder. 


Amy Brown is a Wellington poet, editor and book reviewer. She was inspired to write ‘Brownian Motion’ after reading As Far As We Know, by Paul Callaghan and Kim Hill.