The Problem with Quantum Entanglement

by Christina Cook


An alchemist, a Theosophist, and a physicist walk into a bar.

“Give me a shot of the most potent elixir you distill in your back-room alembic,” says the alchemist.

“I’d like a shot of your finest spirits,” says the Theosophist.

“I’ll take a shot in the dark,” says the physicist.

The bartender lines up the three shots, but finds he can only see two of them. He hands these to the alchemist and Theosophist, whose arms span centuries to clink their glasses together.

The bartender turns to the physicist. “I’m sorry, but I seem to have lost your shot,” he says.

The physicist laughs and slaps his hand on the glossy wood bar top: the sound of the slap emerges in a bar three ungentrified blocks away. “I can’t believe you fell for that trick again!” he shouts. Intoxicated with the lack of liquor, he falls off his stool and straight through the floor as if it wasn’t ever there.


Christina Cook is the author of the poetry collections A Strange Insomnia, Ricochet, and Lake Effect. Her poems, translations, essays, and book reviews have appeared widely in journals including the Prairie Schooner, New England Review, and Crazyhorse. Formerly a senior writer for the presidents of Dartmouth College and the University of Pennsylvania, she is now an assistant teaching professor in the English Department at Penn State University.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “The Problem with Quantum Entanglement”?

The three personages in the piece are main characters in my novel-in-progress, American Alchemy. Two are based on historical Philadelphia residents: The “Alchemist” is Magister Johannes Kelpius, a.k.a. “The Mystic of the Wissahickon,” an alchemist and Pietist monk who led his adherents from Transylvania (I’m not even kidding) to Philadelphia in anticipation of the Apocalypse in 1694. The “Theosophist” is Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky—spirit medium, occultist, and founder of the Theosophical Society—who lived in West Philly in the 1870s (though she fabricated many of the events of her life, so we can’t be too sure). The “Physicist” is Cassius Ilinga, a fictional character whose efforts to save the country from itself in the late 2020s entangle him with Kelpius and Blavatsky deep in the forested Wissahickon Park.


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Matter Press recently released titles from Meg Boscov, Abby Frucht, Robert McBrearty, Tori Bond, Kathy Fish, and Christopher Allen. Click here.

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Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions are now closed. The reading period for standard submissions opens again September 15, 2022. Submit here.


08/01 • Christina Cook
08/08 • Kim Chinquee
08/15 • Michael Czyzniejewski
08/22 • Len Kuntz
08/29 • Thaddeus Rutkowski
09/05 • Candice May
09/12 • Bonnie Jo Campbell
09/19 • TBD