Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Great Unknown (Dar Williams)

From today's Writer's Almanac:

In 1945 on this day, the first atomic bomb exploded at 5:30 a.m., 120 miles south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. People saw a ball of fire that rose rapidly, releasing four times the heat of the interior of the sun, followed by a 40,000 foot mushroom cloud. The bomb was supposed to give the United States "peace through strength." Officials told the New Mexican citizens that an ammunitions dump had blown up. The project's director, Kenneth Bainbridge, watched the column of fire and dust and said, "Now we are all sons of bitches." Today, radiation levels on the spot are still 10 times that of radiation levels found in nature, and the ground is marked by a lava stone obelisk and a plaque that reads, "Where the World's First Nuclear Device Was Exploded on July 16, 1945."

The test was code-named Trinity, supposedly after a poem by John Donne which begins: "Batter my heart, three-person'd God"

Blue-green pebbles can be found on the ground. They have been named Trinitite. Trinitite was formed when the heat pulse from the explosion fused the desert sand into glass.

POEM: My Century by Alan Feldman

The year I was born the atomic bomb went off.
Here I’d just begun, and someone
found the switch to turn off the world.
In the furnace-light, in the central solar fire
of that heat lamp, the future got very finite,
and it was possible to imagine time-travelers
failing to arrive, because there was no time
to arrive in. Inside the clock in the hall
heavy brass cylinders descended.

Tick-tock, the chimes changed their tune
one phrase at a time. The bomb became
a film star, its glamorous globe of smoke
searing the faces of men in beach chairs.
Someone threw up every day at school.
No time to worry about collective death,
when life itself was permeated by ordeals.
And so we grew up accepting things.

In bio we learned there were particles
cruising through us like whales through archipelagoes,
and in civics that if Hitler had gotten the bomb
he’d have used it on the inferior races,
and all this time love was etching its scars
on our skins like maps. The heavens
remained pure, except for little white slits
on the perfect blue skin that planes cut
in the icy upper air, like needles sewing.
From one, a tiny seed might fall
that would make a sun on earth.

And so the century passed, with me still in it,
books waiting on the shelves to become cinders,
what we felt locked up inside, waiting to be read,
down the long corridor of time. I was born
the year the bomb exploded. Twice
whole cities were charred like cities in the Bible,
but we didn’t look back. We went on thinking
we could go on, our shapes the same,
darkened now against a background lit by fire.

Forgive me for doubting you’re there,
Citizens, on your holodecks with earth wallpaper—
a shadow-toned ancestor with poorly pressed pants,
protected like a child from knowing the future.

QUOTE: "The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking... the solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind. If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker." ~ Albert Einstein

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