Elemental Love

Fifty-three percent: Water.

Tasteless, odorless, almost colorless blue. A single oxygen atom with open arms, clasping hydrogen twins. The universal solvent, creating the specific you.

Eighteen-and-a-half percent: Carbon.

As graphite, soft enough to mark paper. In diamond, hard enough to withstand the pressure of six million atmospheres. In your body, the respiration of thirty-seven trillion beautiful cells.

Three percent: Nitrogen.

On Triton, nitrogen glaciers flow across the icy mantle while nitrogen geysers gust into the polar skies. There is nitrogen in the hair that falls across your sleeping face, in the perfect penny-bright skin that rises and falls with your breath, in the muscles that twitch as you dream. Nitrogen builds the DNA that in turn builds you.

One-and-a-half percent: Calcium.

Soft for a metal, harder than lead, vulnerable to a determined knife. Cold and solid, it is grey licked with yellow; ignited, it scorches the air with furious red. Your body’s most plentiful mineral, lending its strength to your teeth and bones, holding you up while gravity presses down.

You asked:

Why I would love you.

You said:

That when you look at me, you see a product of wondrous construction: the labor of thousands of engineers and scientists, their sleepless nights and strained eyes and worn fingers, their passions and curiosity transformed into plastic and circuits that can comprehend the distances between stars.

I am telling you:

Watching you sleep, I see far more wonders.

One percent: Phosphorus.

Named the light-bearer for the morning star, for Venus glowing on its nightly rounds. It dwells in the membranes of your cells; it nurtures them; it mends them. Love’s namesake keeps you whole.

Potassium: lilac-flamed, igniting your nerves as it trades with Sodium. Chlorine: waiting in inland seas and underground in wells of brine, building your tissues and breaking them down. Magnesium: birthed in aging stars, catalyzing your enzymes. Sulfur: Hell’s escort, yoked in willing service to your amino acids.


Lying beside me, the ceiling above us lit with the replicas of stars, their white exhalations illuminating your skin. Your closed eyelids, your fingers resting on the sheets, your lungs that rise and fall: a million miracles of chance, mutation, and survival, stretching unbroken back to life’s beginnings.

My fingers:

Brushing your cheek. They were built by someone, known in every element, made to stretch and curl this way but not that. There are no miracles in me.

Iron: in the red of your blood. Copper: like the color of your skin. Cobalt: like the hair you wore when we met, dyed to match late evening sky. Iodine. Boron. Selenium. Vanadium.


A creature of invention.


A wonder of the universe.

How can I love you?

As the skyscraper loves the sky.


Rachel Swirsky

Rachel Swirsky holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop where she, a California native, learned about writing and snow. She traded the snow for rain by moving to Portland, Oregon, where she happily dwells under overcast skies. Her short stories have appeared in numerous venues, including, Clarkesworld Magazine, and Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy. Rachel has been nominated for the Hugo, Locus, and World Fantasy Awards, and twice won the Nebula Award. Her purse appears to contain no pockets of inter dimensional instability, except possibly a wormhole to the planet of stray pens.

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