Orders Of Magnitude

March 21, 2014

By Olivia Richardson, MD

On the order of angstroms,

infinitesimally small

nucleotides pair off

and cling tightly to one another,


hundreds of kilojoules

binding them.


Like teenagers they dance,


With arms entwined

they spin around one another-

spinning and twirling,

waltzing in neat lines

to the beat of their fate.


With endless energy,

they waltz-

in infinite numbers,

in trillions of cells,

with flawless precision,

never a step off beat.


On the order of angstroms,

a single nucleotide,

in an act

of unchecked rebellion,

with one missed step unnoticed,

topples this precarious perfection.



We measure a woman

on the order of inches,

by her strength of character,

quickness of wit,

her scent, her charm, her warmth.


This woman is a mother above all.


You can tell by her daughters,

who sit perched atop her bed,

one nuzzled at her side,

the other at her feet,

a barricade,

defending her with their barrage

of alternating facts and questions-

a fortress built from scraps of information,

of hope,

picked up along the way.


You can tell by the tangle

of neoprene balloons,

which float above her head,

red and silver and green,

tied to her bedpost,

filled to the brim with helium,

threatening to-

at any moment-

sweep up her small frame,

and whisk her away.


A loose fitting cuff hangs

from her wasted arm,

a limb unknown to her-

to a woman who once measured

one hundred and forty pounds,

whose curves stopped a man in his tracks,

and prompted him to give her his name.

Not only a mother-

also a lover,

a wife.


She lies very still,

and rests her left hand

over her ribs

just under her breast,

where it is tender from her fall.


What makes a woman?

Her scent, her warmth, her soul,

the trillions of waltzing cells,

the one misstep,

on the order of angstroms,

that leads to her fall.

This piece was inspired by Ms. A.P., a 70-year-old woman with locally advanced pancreatic cancer. Wife and mother of four.