What’s the value of asking questions to which we don’t know the answer? Poet Franny Choi’s “Introduction to Quantum Theory” does just that, and she calls it “one of the scariest things” she’s ever written. Choi offers her brief but spectacular take on imagining alternate realities.
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Tonight's Brief But Spectacular episode features Franny Choi, a poet whose work examines contemporary social issues.
Her first poetry collection is called "Floating, Brilliant, Gone," and is available now.
There are only so many parallel universes that concern us. In one, he isn't dead. In another, you drink light with your hands all winter.
There is a universe in which no one is lying emptied in the street as the gas station burns, a universe in which our mothers never learned to wrap their bones in each small grief they'd found. There is a universe in which there is no difference between the past and the ground, another where the oceans pull the moon, and so on.
This is an incomplete list. It has been abridged for your comfort. I could tell you about the many universes in which bad things happen to people other than the people you love. Yes, in another life, it's someone else's sister who climbs to the roof that night. In another life, the boys rise darkly from the asphalt to choke the engines of cruisers, and no one gives birth chained to a hospital bed, and no one's child washes up blue ashore.
Sure, you can have these worlds. You can warm them in your hands at night. Just know that, by signing here, you agree also to be responsible for the universe where the oceans glow red, the universe where what we call shadow is pulsing with the musk of hooves, and especially the one in which humans do exist, but only in the nightmares of small children.
Will you hold that one too? The version of the story that never learned to consider sound, and the one where sound is only the opposite of metal, and the one where not even the sound of metal is enough to quiet the dead?
To me, this poem is one of the scariest things I have ever written, because I'm proposing a lot of things that are — that I truly don't know the answers to. But I think that, as artists and as also people who are thinking and living in the world, that's an important thing for us to try to do, to ask questions that we truly don't know the answers to, not just as a stepping point to get to the platforms that we're trying to put into the world.
I think that there's no time for poems without stakes because people are literally dying, and I don't have time for a poem that has nothing to say about that, or at least nothing to say about the world in which something like that could be possible.
My name is Franny Choi, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on imagining alternate realities.
And you can find additional Brief But Spectacular episodes on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.