Dishwashing Magic

(if you are viewing this via email, the website has a recording of this poem and commentary; click the title above)

When I washed dishes as a child, there was one thing that made me linger at the sink: watching colors play in soap film.

My favorite dish was Mom and Dad’s coffee percolator. At the heart of that percolator was a hollow tube that carried boiling water up from the bottom of the pot and delivered it to coffee grounds in a perforated basket. For me, that tube was a magic wand.

After washing all the other dishes, it was time for the percolator. First, I’d wash the grounds basket, rinse it, and set it aside to dry. Now, all the nasty business of dishwashing was done. It was time for magic!

The tube was all 1/4 inch diameter except at its base, where it widened out to about an inch across. Holding the hollow stem, I’d dip the base in soapy water, and then turn it over to watch what happened in the film that spanned the one-inch opening.

Holding the stem at a slight tilt, I’d watch as bands of intense color formed in the thin film of soapy water. Pure, delightful colors!

What was causing those colors to appear? I’m not a physicist now, and was even less so then, but here’s my guess: Since the “wand” was slightly tilted, gravity was causing the film to be progressively thicker from the high side to the low side. But everywhere it was thin enough to be reflecting different wavelengths of visible light.

After gazing at the intense bands of color, I’d turn the wand upright so that the soap film was level. Immediately, I’d start blowing gently across the film. The bands of color began to swirl on the surface… green going this way, purple going that way, yellow splitting the difference. It was a weaving folk dance of colors.

As I continued gently blowing, the dance of colors continued. But dark areas began to form, one here and another there. More blowing, more dark spots. The colors were all vanishing. Then, just as darkness covered the surface, the film broke, and I was left looking at an ordinary, everyday percolator stem. The magic was gone.

— Brad Hepp, 6/18/2023

(image by Alexa on Pixabay)

#weavingdance #soapbubbles #color #dishwashing #childsplay

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