Two Poems: Elementary Particles

Sneha Madhavan-Reese’s new collection Elementary Particles (Brick Books) is part family history, part scientific exploration of the world. The poems take us from India to Michigan and consider ancestral language, planetary histories, transformations, and loss.

We share two poems from the collection, below.


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Two Poems from Elementary Particles

Free Fall

A glass dropped from a height will shatter. 
Without support, it will succumb to gravity, 
which is everywhere, 
and all at once. Can you feel it? 
Sometimes it is difficult for me to even get out of bed. 

I am helping my children make a card for my father. 
They are laughing, remembering Parcheesi games 
and banana cakes. I watch them practice Malayalam
letters— the characters I taught them as he taught me— 
before they copy them onto his card. They are planning
the pictures they will draw for him, and my tears 
are falling to the floor. 


Before each semester began,
my father and I reviewed
his class list, and I taught him
how to pronounce the names
of all his students. For days,
he practiced shaping Barbara’s r’s
without tapping his tongue
to the roof of his mouth
and relaxing into Pamela’s subtle vowels,
so unlike the always articulated
syllables of his mother tongue.
He didn’t need to prepare any lectures—
chemistry was his second nature—
but he repeated the names aloud to himself,
recorded his voice on tape
and played it back until he was satisfied
that he could take the first day’s attendance.

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Sneha Madhavan-Reese was born in Detroit and now lives with her family in Ottawa. Her writing has appeared in publications around the world, including The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2016. She is the 2015 winner of Arc Poetry Magazine‘s Diana Brebner Prize, was shortlisted for the 2015 Montreal International Poetry Prize, and received an honourable mention at the 2018 National Magazine Awards. She is the author of one previous poetry collection, Observing the Moon.

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To purchase a copy of Elementary Particles, click here.

For more from Two Poems, click here.