Old poems are the bomb

I’ve got nothing much new to say, so I’ll share an old poem instead. This is one of several atomic bomb poems I wrote many years ago after my father-in-law told me stories about them (he did three tours in Korea, and before he was shipped overseas to fight he was dropped off in Nevada where the US government was testing atomic bombs by dropping them on soldiers to measure the effects on humans, among other things). His stories got me interested in all these atomic bomb tests carried out in the 1950’s and early 60’s; this particular poem was based on an eyewitness account I found online of the very first bomb drop ever conducted on American soil. It was written by one of the two men who’d been stationed out in an old shack in the middle of the desert, and it described them sitting outside at night watching the plane inch closer that would drop the bomb right on top of them – no one knew what was going to happen, and they didn’t know what to do except sit there and wait. 

Frenchman Flats, 1951

The desert floor is crumpled as an old photograph,
sand as cold as fisheyes. Joshua trees surrender

like enemies in the distance. The coyotes
are crying on cue, howling their presence to the moon,

the moon a zygote in the sky, an untreated wound.
They insist this moment matters, not the one

for which you wait, when the bomber banks right
and the world goes white. There’s a pulse

in the eastern sky – humming high over the horizon,
a heavy underbelly flashing red. Remember this.

The moment you embrace your nothingness.


4 thoughts on “Old poems are the bomb

  1. Poignant. Almost like haiku. I have been reading Richard Feynman this week, so this is particularly apt. He likely died from cancer triggered by the first A-bomb test. Touching.

    • My FIL has never had any complications from it, which is typical for him. He is a LOT like your father – successful at pretty much everything he encounters, strong-willed, not very understanding of others who aren’t as tough as he is since he isn’t able really to see that he’s an exception and not the rule. So it makes sense not even an atomic bomb could slow him down. He’s 84 now and sharp as a tack, although his body is giving out in various ways, but still, he is going to go down fighting, that is for sure.

  2. Wow. Who wrote this poem? Coincidentally I had just been looking for a poem about the “bomb” for my memoir–for an epigraph for a chapter.

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