Robert Oppenheimer (poem)

Robert Oppenheimer

Now I come to write in light and fire
in a language of power we all know,
beyond every letter and poetry
and all the dithering of philosophy,
all the prevarication of politics.
The physicists have known sin, it’s true,
but also the brilliance of a burden
overcome in the ageless mountains,
a foul display that was beyond awesome,
beyond my conscience but still atop it:
in less than a second tens of thousands
turned to piles of boiled organs and black char,
the burnt but still living running for the
cisterns or the boiled, dead-crowded rivers.

News of a flood or an earthquake makes me
think of myself, since the questions tendered
given to heaven are now given to me,
and its silence is something like my own:
any remorse is just ridiculous
and any warning is usefully late,
since I’ve already handled God’s fuel.
I cannot keep from swagger, or from mourning:
this knowledge a weight you will never know
and with it a satisfaction, a pride:
numbers and elements resolved into
a thing that worked, but never should again.

Originally published in Poethead, July 2016

Advertisements