February 24, 2024

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

By Sarah Lim
22nd April 2022

Fatigue, like heavy paint
slathered under eyes of frosted glass,
smeared along the bridge of a defiant nose,
impasto over eyelids,
streaks of war across cheekbones,
sgraffito patterning numbered vertebrae.
Hands numb, joints lazy.
Shoulder blades brought low by the weight of being awake. Your own voice, hoarse and unrecognisable:

Light the fire,
drop the ballast—
it’s strange how failure feels at once weighty and uplifting, gravid with discovery.

Leave the sodden silk and steam, breathe in.
Let the weariness beat its wings against your windpipe, filling lungs, filling sails, air on canvas.
Breathe out and go up and up into
the benign blankness of night.
Fix your eyes on bright visions
of laying there, among the clouds.

In a week, a month, a year,
when you finally touch down
on windburnt grass and weathered dirt, the sun will greet you like an old friend: a nod, a tired smile in passing.

Your hands will shake,
your spine will realign,
your eyes will cry out with the light, the vividness of a newborn flame.

The sun will say:
“Wipe the dust off your skin, and begin again.”

In 1782, Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier were watching smoke rise from the fireplace when they began to dream of reaching the clouds. This poem was inspired by their numerous failures, and enduring ambition – common characteristics of modern science.

In 1783, only a year after their first experiments and more than a century before the Wright brothers took to the skies, the Montgolfier brothers launched the earliest piloted flight by man – a hot air balloon (or ‘globe aérostatique’) carrying Jacques-Étienne.

Sarah Lim is currently enrolled on the MSc Science Communication course at Imperial College London. Heavily inspired by the Beat Generation of the 1950s, she has been writing poetry and short stories for as long as she can remember.