The History of Emptiness – Jack Ritter

When me and Oliver were thirteen, we built a vacuum pump.
We used an old ammonia-based refrigerator compressor.
He was STEM smart, like his dad.
Actually, he built it.
We breathed in a lot of ammonia gas before finding all the leaks.

We tried pumping the air out of a milk bottle.
How do we know there’s no air in it?

We took turns letting it suck our tongues
back into the bottle.
That, my friend, is how you know.
We went on to vacuumize anything that was empty.
Until our tongues could no longer take it.

We pumped out the milk bottle again,
and lovingly sealed it off.
Then the compressor burned out.

We took the bottle to school to show some guys.
How do we know we’re really seeing something?
That’s the point. You’re actually seeing nothingness itself!
Nothingness. … Huh.

That was our last vacuum,
so a proof by tongue was out of the question.

We pondered over the bottle for weeks:
If we took this into space and opened it,
would the vacuum escape?
Then Oliver moved.
His dad found him a job
at a hydraulics lab.

I kept the bottle,
having bought out Oliver.
I’ll take good care of her.

Years later I learned the news: space is curved!
So I got down the bottle.
I was half hoping its glass walls would be slightly bent,
the way a stiff glove finally conforms to a hand.

I called Oliver to ask just how curved space was.
Still all teary over nothingness, Huh?
He had quit his great job
to become a code compliance officer.

There is no scarier sight
than seeing a man lose his faith.

Jack RitterJack Ritter writes poetry, flash fiction, and comedy. Jack is a video games programmer by trade. He has published original computer animation algorithms, as well as poetry and flash fiction. He and his wife love going to Peru. He currently creates and sells large format digital art prints. His website is