Sixty-seven years ago today the Enola Gay dropped ‘Little Boy’ on Hiroshima. Inspired by this stunning piece by Anthony Freda, I wrote the following piece two years ago. My hope is that you don’t mind me reprising it on this solemn anniversary; I updated it a bit.
From this plane in The Afterlife it’s impossible for me to know where my essence hovers; whether it is hell or heaven…or just an in-between place I have created from my imagination. I sense, more than see the local Universe; the tug of the pull from a black hole causes a sensation at the back of my head…or at least the place…that might have once been my head. The sounds that emanate from stars almost unimaginable distances away resonate inside me, providing diversion at times from the over-arching images that dwell within me like live beings and sometimes cause my phantom legs to move with their rhythms. At times they are like the giggling and chattering of the glass wind chimes our uncle brought us back from China; at others like black bells gong… gong..… gonging…the single, reverberating note becomes a lamentation of death. At first the iron bells feel coldly portentous; in time they grow increasingly warm…then hot, as I begin again to feel and see the red…the brilliant gold…the fire…
…of this molten mushroom from hell, growing and expanding from the initial hoops of light energy, then rising and growing, folding in on itself, boiling, roiling…rising to the heavens as if bragging about our power over nature… Prometheus unbound! In our intellectual hubris, did we unconsciously create this monster in defiance of the gods? What will be our punishment, and will all mankind share our resultant penalty for all eternity?
In this place I reside for now, time shifts easily, and my awareness often slides to that day at Trinity, and I see the man I was then. I seem doomed to remember him musing, “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one…” Oh, Lord Shiva; imagine my hubris; our collective hubris! That fateful day, our glasses were not enough; we threw up our hands against the flash, protecting our eyes as we might thrust crosses toward vampires, sneaking peeks until the first flash resolved into the steaming organic shape it became as it grew: first half a melon, then roiling and undulating as it grew out from its stem…higher and fuller, golden red and beautifully hideous… spreading into a molten vegetable gone mad. How is that you didn’t stop us then? From this destruction, there could come no resurrection, no restoration!
When the star-songs are more melancholy and the imploding suns pull at me, images of burning people in Japan fill my awareness; their screaming mouths are silent, thank the gods…the falling debris makes no sound…light so bright that shadows on a sidewalk were often all that were the only record left of a human turned into…vapor. None of us had ever anticipated such a thing; how could we have, and kept the project going? Oh, Mr. Suzuki; you should not have uttered ‘Mokusatsu’! Perhaps the bombs would never have been unleashed if you had been clearer…and asked for more time to consider surrender.
With our success at Trinity, I admit that I also felt a wave of relief…the struggle had been so long, and so hard…we had been convinced then that what we were creating was a necessity; and at least we hadn’t ignited the atmosphere; a blessing in itself. Among the team, we seldom spoke our doubts to each other, although some mornings we might show the signs of dark dreams and restless nights, and avoid one another’s eyes. How cravenly flippant we were, nick-naming it ‘Gadget’.
We knew then that the world would never be the same again; a few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita: Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” I suppose we all eventually thought that, one way or another.
Oh, we tried to contain this unholy power later, to make sure no one nation owned it; but the Great Bear was naturally suspicious of us…when our efforts failed, we knew it would all spiral out of control, and the atomic race would commence. Will it ever be stopped?
And of course some fools would later think to harness this raging power for electricity, never realizing that radiation never dies, it just decays, bit by bit…in diminishing half-lives that almost defy the measure of time, and still exude their potent, burning poisons silently, producing cumulative effects that often don’t show themselves for years…decades… What fools humans are to believe they can steal atomic fire from the gods and ever hope to contain it.
It’s of small consequence by now, but I wonder whether I will be able to overcome the karma I accrued in my life to be able to enter one of the more heavenly planes; there were so many other areas of study and discovery that were to my credit: astronomy, cosmology, particle physics: creative knowledge, not just Death-Dealing Annihilation. Perhaps the gods will take them into consideration. Or are there any gods? I do not know; not even the Afterlife has shown me so far; yet I still pray. When the chimes of stardust tinkle, and the dark images recede a bit, sometimes I remember this from the Bagavad-Gita:
“In battle, in the forest, at the precipice in the mountains,
On the dark great sea, in the midst of javelins and arrows,
In sleep, in confusion, in the depths of shame,
The good deeds a man has done before defend him.”
Lord Vishnu; hear my prayers; there are no tears in The Afterlife. Namaste.
“To go into the dark with a light is to know the light. To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings, and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.”
~ Wendell Berry