A figure-eight race in Islip, the track a giant dirt lemniscate. Spectators hanging over the rails or hopping drunk in the bleachers, all fixed on the intersection, where the action was. Braking or accelerating each driver made his decision, some sailing through heedless. The best strategy was opaque to me. In the end, the last junker colliding with not-much won.

In Islip I hungered for meaning the world might offer up unasked. I ran the race by my list of might-means, of portents, of lessons-that-could-be-learned. But I found no non-trivial matches. I never went back.


Forty-seven years ago Ruth and I biked down from the Valley on a little dirt road she knew, climbed the linear accelerator’s fence. I boosted her up. She gave me her hand. We teetered on the top, laughing, leapt together in grace, nailing our landing.

The accelerator’s backbone lined a pale mile each way, the straightest tube that ever was, laid out by a new light called laser. In the tunnel beneath us night-shift students rode their bikes, tended magnets, miles of cable, the particle-charged tube.

And we on the dirt roof dancing. Speed of light, I said, Atoms, she said, Moonshine too.

I kissed her, put my cheek on hers, released, spun her, pulled her to me. Below us giant magnets pumped a figured bass, infrasonic drone for our mingling cries.

Pedaling home she said, It’s so like men, smashing things to see how the world is made.

I said, How else can you learn what’s inside?

Then, as photons streaming into a beam splitter, we launched ourselves down different paths.


Forty years later, not far from Islip, Brookhaven smashers boosted gold nuclei to nearly light-speed. Opposing gold accelerated round, equally fast, then, finally magnet-bent, they collided, for a femtosecond creating a plasma of naked quarks and gluons, a state of matter nowhere seen since the Big Bang.

I read about the collision, thought about the beam splitter we’d entered. Was there a near intersection? I’d been years on my life’s beamline, accelerated by events and people, Ruth the same, both hurtling on, dissatisfied, lonely, confined. I saw how to bend my beam, aiming it at hers. They met, like the quark-gluon plasma, a created state both new and old.

She offered her hand. I took it. Again we leapt. Again, in grace, we landed.