This entry is part [part not set] of 13 in the series Poetry Out Loud
Youth Voices
Youth Voices
"Cartoon Physics, part 1" by Nick Flynn, Read by Karim Mansour

Children under, say, ten, shouldn’t know
that the universe is ever-expanding,   
inexorably pushing into the vacuum, galaxies

swallowed by galaxies, whole

solar systems collapsing, all of it
acted out in silence. At ten we are still learning

the rules of cartoon animation,

that if a man draws a door on a rock
only he can pass through it.   
Anyone else who tries

will crash into the rock. Ten-year-olds
should stick with burning houses, car wrecks,   
ships going down—earthbound, tangible

disasters, arenas

where they can be heroes. You can run
back into a burning house, sinking ships

have lifeboats, the trucks will come
with their ladders, if you jump

you will be saved. A child

places her hand on the roof of a schoolbus,   
& drives across a city of sand. She knows

the exact spot it will skid, at which point
the bridge will give, who will swim to safety
& who will be pulled under by sharks. She will learn

that if a man runs off the edge of a cliff
he will not fall

until he notices his mistake.

“Cartoon Physics, part 1” by Nick Flynn from Some Ether. Copyright 2000 by Nick Flynn. Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press.

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April 14, 2021 2:27 pm

Dear Karim:
I am happy with your reading of Nick Flynn’s poem, “Cartoon Physics,part 1 ,” because the poem talks about the innocence of the child, where they can use their imagination to be whatever they want, but the real adult world isn’t the same.

One line that stands out for me is, “that if a man runs off the edge of a cliff / he will not fall / until he notices his mistake.” I think this line is important because it is talking about the ignorance of adults. This line is a metaphor for everyday problems that adults have. They are too stubborn to admit their mistakes until it’s too late.

Another line that stands out for me is, “Ten-year-olds should stick with burning houses, car wrecks, ships going down—earthbound, tangible disasters, arenas / where they can be heroes.” I think this line important because the poet is saying he would rather them stay in the cartoon world because it protects their innocence and child ignorance.

Nick Flynn’s poem reminds me of a video that I once saw because it was talking about how the world looked so much brighter when we were children compared to how dull and grey it looks now that we’re older.

Thanks for your poem. I look forward to seeing what you make next.

Last edited 2 years ago by Kiran

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