Living with Schrödinger’s Cat

by Kathryn Paul

Living with Schrödinger’s Cat


I first heard of Schrödinger’s cat (poor thing)

during a sleepless weekend

a weekend of not knowing (yet knowing)

when the only way to keep

breathing was to watch (continuously)

the first two seasons of Big Bang Theory

pretending to laugh

attempting to keep

from thinking what if—

Wait. Go back.

First: the cat.


Simply put, a scientist named Schrödinger

for some reason possibly having to do with

physics, posited

a cat.

A cat in a box.

A hypothetical cat.

A hypothetical cat in a hypothetical box

not unlike my not-so-hypothetical—

Wait. Focus.

First: the cat.


This hypothetical cat was in the hypothetical box

with a vial of poison. (Hypothetical, of course.)


This posited cat

lay in the box,

in the box with a vial of poison

and an isotope (also hypothetical)

which at some point (hypothetically)

just might begin to decay, releasing

a single hypothetical atom

which would break

the vial and allow the poison (in the hypothesis)

to escape.


All of this leading to (hypothetically speaking)

the cat’s demise.

Death, in other words, could hypothetically

occur. Sort of like—

Stop. Stay with me here.

Stay with the cat.

The hypothetically poisoned

(or possibly not poisoned)

hypothetical cat.


In Schrödinger’s hypothesis

(if that is indeed

the right word)

as long as nobody looked

or lifted the lid

as long as nobody peeked

the cat could be (hypothetically)

both alive

and dead

at exactly the same moment in time.


And I,

in my very real bed

in my very real room

in my very real 48 hours

of not knowing (yet knowing)

fingered the place

where the needle went in

and the cells came out

so very much not hypothetical

at all.


And so, the cat

simultaneously alive and dead

And so, myself

simultaneously alive and—


Crouched in the box

Crouched in the dark

How much of the poison

How many of those cells

As long as the box is shut

As long as the show is on

As long as the cat stays still

As long as I keep breathing



No peeking.


Kathryn Paul is a Seattle-based writer and editor. She is a survivor of many things, including cancer and downsizing. Her poems have appeared or will soon appear in Lunch Ticket; Stirring: A Literary Collection; Words Dance; The Fem; and Ekphrasis.


Related Posts