SCHRÖDINGER’S CAT PLAYS GOD and other poems by Stephanie Tom

The phenomenon of Schrödinger’s cats states: being that
the cat was simultaneously half-alive and half-dead in the box
to begin with, it becomes either
wholly alive or wholly dead once you open the box.
I find that it is hard to wrap the mind around
the state of half-death and half-life. It would do some good to
try to understand the concept of radioactive decay –
where all of the atoms take turns being spliced halfway,
in an act of becoming smaller, folding upon themselves along a
fractioned graph of an exponentially downward slope.
Now, take the box and pretend to open its flaps -does
the cat proceed to choose a definitive life or death
even if no one sees it?
It’s a critical condition of biological nature to
assume things that we might not be certain of –
the cat laughs whenever that happens.
It knows that to be organic is to believe in an entity you cannot see,
it knows that you’re walking down a path that you don’t know the way of, and
it knows that you’re waiting for something to happen.
Cats don’t stray without vision, you see –
after all, they can see through the dark while humans cannot.
All that Schrödinger’s cat wants you to know is that
on the journey that you take, wherever you think you may be going,
there are always going to be surprises; although
you may think you know,
in the context of the original theory,
you are looking upon yourself as the cat from the outside of the box.
All that you can hope for is a softer light at the end of the trail.


Jade knows how to swallow swords, or so she says;
she knows how to tip her head back and
slide iron over enamel, watch the hilt kiss her lips.
When she pulls it back out,
she shows us how it’s still clean, no cuts, no blood –
“That’s what you call a miracle, kids.”
She’s not older than any of us but
she pretends that she is and she isn’t,
smiling with eyes that are darker underneath
than her eyeliner is above,
and with lips that pull taut right before they smile fully.
We think of her as an enigma –
she knows how to turn grease into varnish,
knows how to turn salt into sugar,
knows how to turn fraying threads into silk,
but Jade doesn’t believe in superstitions because
she doesn’t believe in higher orders of nature,
just in the power of being able to create them.
She tries, but we’ve never told her that
varnish can slick over too obviously
so that it still looks like grease,
or that sugar clots can
still melt bitter on your tongue,
or that silk can still turn spider.
We’ve never told her,
even when she invited us to her house one day
and everyone saw the mirror that she had hung up,
cracked all over, but not yet falling out of its frame,
and saw how in the shifting afternoon light
when she peered into it,
out of so many faces reflected in the glass,
not a single one of them was really hers.


One spring morning,
I watched a star fall out of the sky,
closer than it’d usually come, and
that very evening,
before it crawled back up to the night,
I developed a strange aching that
I couldn’t quite explain.
That summer, I took up astrology,
and began to cross check my future with the
movement of the stars, somehow believing that
they could heal me, despite the fact that
they’ve never seen me wholly.
Three years later, and I haven’t stopped
reading star charts or gazing into the night sky,
hoping for a glimpse of something ethereal,
or something that could cure the aching,
the aching which isn’t so much aching anymore
as it is a series of pulses.
Audrey has never really believed in astrology
and even though she watches me scan the skies,
she tells me to throw away my faith in it
because she’s tired of seeing me fracture
from the inside out over stars that will never
be there when I seek them. She says that
the best way to deal with the ache that
she senses in my chest is to confront it,
and to declare my own excommunication
before the stars tell me first.

Disclaimer: this is not a confession.
This is merely a letter of acknowledgement
as a last glimpse through a telescope,
the same way that you’re supposed to
avert your eyes from a direct supernova,
except my star is not dying,
it’s already dead.
I’ve forgotten that in all of its beauty,
a star’s light is simply a remnant,
a last reach, a gentle hand,
to leave a dash of their glow in remembrance
of memories that they’ve never shared,
will never share, with anyone.
How naïve of me to think that
I was ever going to be privy to any of them.


On Thursday, Naomi texted me at twelve midnight
to tell me that she met a girl,

and on Friday, she declared that it was a coup de foudre,
a lightning strike of love at first sight.

Girls like Naomi are born fist-first, like
thunder claps in the middle of the night,

don’t know anything about slow burns because
everything in life can be boiled down to forever or never.

She tends to believe in forever, always craves that
hypnotic spiral of yesterday melting into today and tomorrow,

and when she saw her lightning strike,
she reached back with thunder claps pulling closer and closer

to a girl who she saw as a beacon in
a dark, dark night. But she forgot that

you could count the seconds between the strike and the sound,
and that there you could count the miles between them.

The darker the night, the closer they were,
but as the nights grew clearer and the shadows weren’t as deep,

the lightning slowly faded away until there was nothing
for the thunder to clap towards anymore.

It got too lonely listening to the silence, and soon, Naomi realized
how much she had missed sunny days after the storm had passed.


Break the glass; seize the hatchet
and sharpen it against the doorframe.
Grab the nozzle of the fire extinguisher
and pull out the pin — throw it away,
you won’t need it anymore.
When the bell sounds, you’ll need to
pull up your bootstraps, straighten your collar,
march straight into the flames with your head high;
never let anyone see your resolve crumble —
that’s how the vultures find you. (It’s true that they
only congregate around the dead, much like crows,
but unlike crows, they will not hesitate to finish you.)
After all — out of the frying pan, into the fire.
You will never hear anyone tell you to do so,
but you must not only ready your tools, your wit —
you must ready yourself as well.
Shed your skin like a snake, adopt a new persona,
one that screams with teeth bared to the wolves,
even if it’s only bravado. Find the knots in your skeletons
and comb them out, reconstruct your geometry
into something sharp, angled; turn tortoise,
toughen your shell and don’t forget to keep moving,
even if your feet blister.
(You were never made for the flames, but by God,
if you must enter a world of broken glass and
secrets like shrapnel, you’re going to make it through alive.)


April mornings are for sweet tea in the window full of rain, so
the girl who’s allergic to honey takes sugar in her tea instead.
She knows that when she fills the mug up halfway, it’s not
half full or half empty, just twice as tall as it needs to be.
She knows how to think practically, like how to pinch the
bridge of your nose as you tilt your head up slows nosebleeds,
and how to drink lemon juice as an excellent way to practice
poker faces, and how to steady your voice by dreaming of voids.
She knows the boy around the corner who is allergic to sunlight and
collects light bulbs in an artificial attempt at reaching for warmth.
He knows how to think rationally, about the difference between
eyebrow to eye ratios, about seven different ways to say a name,
about the thirty different meanings behind a smile.
He’s spoken of memories like wastelands before, post-apocalyptic
deserts where every man knows a rattlesnake and every flower
is poison because there is nothing beautiful left in that world.
She mentions that the most fragile things in life are the most deadly
and that a flower doesn’t need to be poisonous for people to
think it is anyways. Names carry enough damage themselves.
They sat at the fringes of the universe one night, stargazing together,
renaming the stars and telling each other secrets that
the sky promised it would never share with anybody else.
She told him that the room was always going to be twice as full
as he expected, and that the moon in the sky would always be
twice as big as anyone could ever see at once, and that meant that
there was never going to be a person in the world that told the truth
when they said that they knew everything there was to know about you.
He told her that people loved nothing more in the world than
the numerous ways they could grasp at straws, or the number of ways
they could lie to themselves, and that all of the people she could ever
meet in life were all hurting, whether they knew it or not.
In the silence between them, they could see a hint of the moon
behind cloud cover and the smoke of midnight.
The girl found herself wondering about lemon juice and light bulbs,
flowers and full rooms, found herself staring at her hands and
wanting to find out how much of a person she really was, as they defined.
Someone found water on Mars last year and said that that was
enough evidence to prove that there had once been life out there.
Here too, she thought.

About the author:
Stephanie Tom is a high school student living in New York. She writes and serves as an editor for both her school newspaper and literary magazine. She has previously won a Gold Key from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards for her poetry, and her work has either appeared or is forthcoming in Dear Damsels, Hypertrophic Literary, and Rising Phoenix Review, among other places.

1 Comment on SCHRÖDINGER’S CAT PLAYS GOD and other poems by Stephanie Tom

  1. alexander green // January 24, 2017 at 20:24 //

    damn she can write


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