Louis Slotin as Pigeon Feeder

Original Text: 

Michael Lista. Bloom. Toronto, Ontario: House of Anansi Press, 2010.

1Young man, you stick out like an ocean
2around here. There hasn’t been a cloud
3in these here skies since the last Navajo rode free
4through Los Alamos. The morning is as clear
5as a sun-bleached bivalve. And there you stand
6on the lab’s sandy steps, in your black three-piece
7and straw hat, drawing all the Brass’s women over.
8Is it safe to keep whistling them in
9knowing their men have all the pistols
10on the base? And why keep so obstinate a pace
11after the general’s slender daughter when she shies
12from her suitors to the wind? If it wasn’t for the bomb
13you’re building they’d call you a class-A moron
14or talentless chauvinist, just another cowboy PhD
15with a pre-critical core at your disposal and a slotted flathead
16in your pocket, predictably bragging to the spoken-fors
17about tickling the dragon’s tail alone in a lab room
18of your own. But everyone saw you in the packed saloon
19last night, introducing your bare-backed wife
20to the sunburned, boozy lieutenants in their dress blues.
21When your replacement, Alvin Graves, adhered himself to her
22in the centre of the dance floor and blazed a finger
23up the milky mile of her thigh you smiled, seemingly happy
24to split your happy union like a Helium nucleus, night
25by night as the physicist in you sees fit. They thought it
26was a stunt at first. Or a game that you and she play out in public
27to achieve a private criticality of cells, to prime yourselves
28for yourselves. When she and Graves paraded
29through the charged miasma of the bar hand-in-hand
30into the night, you didn’t move, sat military still,
31sipped your scotch and eyed back whatever women
32watched you. Your mind lay open
33like a drawer-full of forks. The staff and captains stayed late
34to stoke what you had started and couldn’t help but ask
35Who are you putting on Louis
36frisbeeing your wife out like a freebee?
37What’s in it for you when it’s done?
38How or who will end what you’ve begun?
39This morning every eye attends you
40like a brave new planet swum into their ken.
41And now, fresh from their eclosion,
42the base’s women close in
43on you, the thin stuff of their summer dresses
44hurried into fast currents on their hips
45by wind that stirs some birds into a mobile.
46But be careful boy. Look around you.
47The laws you’re tempting to bend are firmer
48than Fermi’s. The rings fixed to their fingers will break
49less easily than the valence of electrons, and will snap,
50if at all, with much more force and violence. The science
51that binds them will not abide your trying to annihilate it.
52You know the clatter of their husbands’ boots approaching
53will scatter this flock, and two-by-two they’ll tarry
54to their quarters, leaving you with the sun to sink
55between your knees as night encroaches, the desert
56at your throat. There won’t be time to pull your genius
57over you like an overcoat as that night falls. Even now,
58as the chapel bells cheerio, they break allegiance
59with you. Like unstable isotopes they bloom, curio,
60then fade into the everyday. Their pale bodies decompose
61into the strobe of this New Mexican morning, as if by osmosis.
62Still, the air flurries with the fragrance of their skin
63as if wanting them was wanting’s own neurosis.
after Peter Van Toorn
RPO poem Editors: 
Jim Johnstone
RPO Edition: 
2013
Special Copyright: 

Poem used with permission of the author.