The Use of Physics in Bucyrus, Ohio
Dogtooth violets in tin mugs, well water, lemon pie on the windowsill, I can feel the weight of five generations in my grandparent’s house, a little constellation of Midwestern values and homemade clothing, fertile mice and scabbed Bibles. My grandfather only comments on how thin I’ve gotten over the past couple months. He chatters with the cows about his day but keeps a cigar between his teeth until he mentions to me that making a living off the land is respectable, enviable, and academia is niceties in comparison.
No one starves if you stop working, he says, not even glancing at me as he taps ash in a ceramic dish shaped like an apple. What do you study again?
Physics. I don’t see any physicists saving the world.
My mother bustles in, torn lace apron, pushing my father onto the scene, he who has milked cows and coaxed corn out of the earth every day since he was old enough to walk to the barn by himself. He who feels soil in his veins and dew under his tongue, who treats calves with more tenderness than his children, who treats acorns with more tenderness than his wife.
Now dad, he says, ruffling his fingers like he’s shuffling playing cards, like he’s lighting a cigarette. Physics does lots of good things.
Oh yeah, my grandfather sneers, the solidity of an entire generation propping up his contempt. Like what?
Well. My father looks at me, eyes like honey even though his hair is grey at the temples. Tell us, son, what good are you doing?
Maddie Woda is an undergraduate at Columbia University in New York City, majoring in English and American Studies. She is a member of the Columbia Review and has forthcoming work in ANGLES.