Vikram Masson, “Chandrasekhar, The Nobel Prize-Winning Physicist, at Public School #11”

Vikram Masson is a lawyer by training who lives near Richmond, Virginia. His poetry is featured or forthcoming in the Amethyst Review, Allegro Poetry Magazine, Young Ravens Literary Review, and The American Journal of Poetry.

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Chandrasekhar, The Nobel Prize-Winning Physicist, at Public School #11

Back in the 80s when there weren’t many
Indians around, when the kids would
slur you with a racist war whoop
(wah, wah, wah) thanks to Columbus’s
error, the Hindu Cultural Society
honored Chandrasekhar at P.S. 11.

He sat at a foul line on the grammar school’s
basketball court, facing a makeshift
dais under a torn hoop, flanked by
an audience in saris and soda bottle glasses.
His moist forehead streaked with a line of
red tilak and his burnt umber skin made me think
of a yogi dripping with transcendent wisdom
(though I learned later he was an atheist).

One officer and then another babbled on
about how proud they were that an Indian
scientist, nay, a sage, had plumbed the molten
logic of the stars. The scent of idli and bubbling pots
of sambar wafted from the bleachers as an
uncle tried to explain the Chandrasekhar Limit—
the maximum mass a white dwarf can bear
before collapsing into the light-eating
desolation of a black hole.

I forget everything the great man said, except for one thing.
At the end of the ceremony, my young mother
thrust me in front of him and asked,
Doctor, what words have you for our future?
He said, As you must have heard, I worked
very hard. Will your son do the same?

Could he have sensed the impending
collapse of my own star, and how a desperate
mother would sift for answers in the cracked
glass of whiskey bottles? Scald herself fingering
embers from the houses burned to the ground in my wake?
How she would explain away the loafing
and scheming of a son who was the future?
Did he see that this mother would gradually
desiccate, all the light sucked from her,
as she refused to give up on her promising boy
who could not bear such hope?





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