After the storm, near Arches National Park.
How do you mark the 67th anniversary of a day that changed the world forever? Ready or not, the atomic age began on July 16, 1945 with the first successful atom bomb test. There’s a report, available now from the Los Alamos National Library, so you can read all about it.
Trinity by K.T. Bainbridge sounds like it could be an exploration of the religious belief that God is creator, human, and spirit all at once. In fact, Trinity was the code name for the test explosion which occurred in the Jornada del Muerto desert, a name translated from Spanish as, “single day’s journey of the dead man.”
Even though you know exactly what’s coming in that report, the suspense could kill you.
Page iv is blinding white. Stark. Then you turn the page and wonder if there’s a government typesetter who has a sense for visual poetry. The entire page is mostly bare, except centered amidst that very quiet middle, like a cloud, is this:
The world’s first atomic explosion occurred July 16, 1945 at the
Trinity test site in southern New Mexico.
This account of the organization at Trinity, the experiments, and
the results, under the direction of K.T. Bainbridge, was written
shortly after completion of the test.
Page 43 provides an itinerary for the weekend festivities.
Saturday, 14 July, 1700
Sunday, 15 July, all day
Look for rabbit’s feet and four-leaved clovers. Should we have the Chaplain down there? Period for inspection available from 0900-1000.
Monday, July 16 0400
“Gadget” is the code word for what the world had never seen. Bang! I think of noisy things whose names I speak. Bombs.
What was the sound on July 16?
“…measurements were designed to give results for…an energy release from 10,000 to 50,000 tons of TNT…. In many cases the dirt was blown from the shelters by the outgoing wind.”
Wind, I’ve heard wind and other noisy things. Surf. Thunder. Once I had a friend. He’d lie stretched out on the runway at night when planes took off from LAX. This was back in the day when a kid could hop a fence and sneak onto airport runways, before his death changed all that. Way before 9/11. I can’t even ask him now, how loud exactly is a jet when it throttles down upon you?
That author of Trinity writes of inexplicable things.
“The following observations, among others, seem to deserve special notice…A skirt of hot lumpy matter, thus far unexplained, rose from the ground ahead of the Mach wave.”
I’ll admit I own a few lumpy skirts. How funny would I look like rising from the ground just ahead of an approaching Mach wave? Would it be anything like riding Hurricane Ava surf at the Wedge in Newport Beach that summer of 1973?
A laugh wafts through my open window. There are good noises. Sure. Unforeseen pleasures. Fireworks or timpanis.
There were unforeseen phenomenon that long ago July.
“The velocity of the shock wave unexpectedly remained nearly constant at twice sound velocity…”
I think of other unexpected, nearly constant things, like stars or love. How good it is when something works the way you hope.
Records fogged by gamma rays.
No records. Traces thrown off scale by radiation effects.
Inhale sweet summer air.
I remember saying this in Japan on a 2007 visit with my daughter, years before Fukushima. We were thrown off scale by radiation effects. From my journal three days after visiting Hiroshima:
still thinking of pieces of skin
the tongue with purpura spots
the broken spine
the tea dark brown
preserved in pristine acrylic
at Peace Memorial Museum
Did the men in that 1945 desert pause to inhale sweet summer air once the dust had settled into silence?
There are quiet things I hate. Time passing quickly. Radiation seeping from the — Noisy things I hate: Bang! Gadgets!
Yet mostly, quiet things are sweet. Like the sound of books. Your smile when you read my face. A silent prayer like humans folding paper cranes for peace.
Paper cranes at Peace Memorial Park, Hiroshima
Mark this anniversary as you must.
With hush and racket,
p.s. A poetry book that might touch your heart on the topic of nuclear war: The Tongue of War: From Pearl Harbor to Nagasaki by Tony Barnstone. From the introduction:
“I branched out and spent a decade and a half researching war letters, diaries, histories, oral histories, and interviews with American and Japanese soldiers, scientists such as Robert Oppenheimer, President Harry Truman and citizen survivors of the Rape of Nanjing, or Hiroshima, and of Nagasaki. Drawing from these sources, these poems speak from the points of view of participants in, observers of, and victims of war.”
You can view a podcast of Tony reading during his visit to Chapman University’s Tabula Poetica series by following this link.