“I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”
—Stephen Hawking (d. March 14, 2018)
You vanished in early spring: Wheat stirred across the Fens as flags were lowered on Gonville and Caius, backed by fleshy stone.
The final flicker of an immense mind winked out in Cambridge; a shrinking star fell into ordinary hands. Evaristus Mwakha,
Internet apostle, assured the living world: Before he passed, “Stiph Hawkins” cast off doubt and made his confession to the Holy Father.
Meanwhile, in the Mojave, a limo driver launched himself into the troposphere to prove the wisdom painted on his rocket:
FLAT EARTH. “Am I glad I did it? Yeah. I guess.” Two thousand years of science, and the Athenian ship coming over the horizon—
first sails, then hull appearing at great distance— mean little, Stephen. So much for theories. One might walk to the post office, or the bodega
on Valencia and guess, for instance, that time is relative and grows sluggish for anyone who waits in line.
Always, the amateur rocketeer finds the earth flat again on his return. From the vast desert of Southern California, he’s free to view the stars
as fairy lights. Under their steadfast canopy, he’s free to give short interviews to local papers and drink Blue Ribbons, toasting a mind
entirely at rest, and still alive.
For “a model of the universe,” you used Marilyn Monroe: beautiful, and gone. Lessons on gravity showed two of her exhibiting twice the pull on you, whose frame grew ever smaller— but no less easily attracted, you might have said. Drifting at dinners, present but not for so many champagne tables set in style, you found it easier to leave your body, family, and colleagues to think instead of space, whose laws are there, and always have been there, for those with an inward, outward eye.
Patrons at the Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience gawk as the animatronic T-Rex burns back to its steel bones, a glut of fire pouring from its jaws.
Bad wiring set it off, and now it rages while other reptiles on the Wild Walk turn their heads, still startling the children. The older crowd applauds the flames.
Wind summons black pillars of smoke from the machine to pastel trailers where the locals carry on, beating woven rugs against corrugated siding.
Here, you might have made a joke about nature’s indifference—or hummed, at one time, the Feuerzauber, and thought of Siegmund dead a full act already, let down by Nothung.
That grand, Germanic furor offered solace in the wake of diagnosis. You played it loud, too loud, the needle holding to its groove. Now that’s all gone to you.
The T-Rex smolders, giving the last of its smoke. A crowd disperses. You disappeared in pre-dawn darkness, drawn as to a singularity we can’t see, but somehow know is there.