A friend said to me once, if time were flat, if everything were always happening forever concurrently (this is very hard to imagine), then all the versions of us throughout the years would be something like flip-book animation: everything drawn out already on every page, only seeming to dance or shuffle due to a trick of perspective. This is about as far as my understanding of quantum theory goes. Victoria Kelly proposes a similar thought experiment in her poem “Quantum Theory,” collapsing the past and present of her family history into a handful of “moments that go on forever— / somewhere else, on another plane.” Whether or not this is literally true, it strikes me as a common experience; it’s the way I feel that memory works. It’s the way we seem to grapple with trauma (always forever concurrently with the present), as if the darkest things that have happened to us exist even on our sunniest days. What’s surprising in this poem is that Kelly points the concept away from trauma and toward awe. I am slow to remember when I have been awed, when I have had faith in anything. I am easily convinced by every version of me that is lacking—who has been wronged and has wronged others—that the state of things is like “the sun…going down.” Yet if it were true that all the people I have been are still with me somehow, right now, then the version of me who believes, he is real—he is always, forever, concurrently, really here.
Fifty years ago, in Catholic school,
a nun gave my mother a ribbon
said to have been touched by a saint.
This was when her brother was still alive,
and masses were still read in Latin,
and people still wandered across the street
to other people’s houses in the evening.
Now the school is coming down, and, six blocks away,
my grandmother forgets to brush her teeth.
The years are upon her, but they say
there are moments that go on forever—
somewhere else, on another plane.
If it is true
I wonder if somewhere out there
my mother is still being given that ribbon,
and my uncle is waiting for her in the hallway
with his coat slung over his shoulder.
The sun is going down.
They are about to walk home,
and neither of them knows yet
about the cancer, or the English masses,
or the war that is looming.
She is going to show him the ribbon
and they will believe it is real.
Victoria Kelly received her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and her M.Phil. in creative writing from Trinity College, Dublin, where she was a United States Mitchell Scholar. Her poetry has appeared in Southwest Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Prairie Schooner, and is forthcoming in Best American Poetry 2013. She teaches creative writing at Old Dominion University.