Cyclotron Years

superman         1958


I, like Icarus following Daedalus
into realms of undreamt invention,
flew too high to a myth empty place
of facts, and intelligent mechanisms,
where awe and love are irrelevant,
where Ocham’s razor cuts
and in hubris fell

We attended the cyclotron,
physicists, student devotees.
We made the instruments
prepared sacraments of lead bricks,
emulsions, glowing electronic tubes.

I, Icarus see all dimensions,
can see clouds of probability,
can sense the flow of quanta,
the personifications of the fields,
My young soul rushed in to
experience physical nature,
feel the dualities in reality,
feel the shadows about each fact,
romance in the shadows of facts.

The boat of question passes through air locks
into the chamber we built for creation,
all of black iron and brilliant copper.
We cannot go there, into the empty space.
But we did, once, with the vacuum gone,
crawling between the dead Black magnet coils
to trace paths of violent interaction, feeling the chamber hum,
seeking the holding hand of the universe.

A chill penetrates this inner temple, black and golden.
Intruding we felt subtle fear, a threat, the chant
of the incantation preceding creation,
the secrets of blackness before the light,
and remember the stories, the cost of knowing,
the cost one man paid to see this light.
Pure energy drilled his eyes, and mind,
chilled, and cut, particle by particle,
painless inside, flipping the eye’s fluid
grain by grain into white opalescence.

We looked for the pieces that govern creation,
quest for the creator and destroyer
inside this strange machine of magnets,
electric fields and fluxing energy
transforming the nature of matter,
pulling out strange particles,
the fragmented glue,
the terms of the equations,
the lines of the languages,
we use to know the origins
of fire, earth, water, and air.


A ranting salivating spitting
Doctor Teller on the podium
propounding thermonuclear stuff.
Sirens announce the closing gates.
We watched the blackboards
endless trains of white symbols
Oppenheimer, Fermi, Serber
on stage teaching us__

The closing gates keep us out,
preserve us to copy aquiline atomic
symbols flowing out of their hands
rippling over the black surface.
We hear the resonance in their words.
Feel the binding forces, see the orbits dance,
marvel at the beauty in the quantum order.

Doctor Teller rants on the podium.
‘I become power, knowing
the violence in creation
I master violence beyond feeling,
violence beyond restraint, beyond love.
All is consumed, all enters in
the soup, identity of all elements,
flesh, bone, water, love,
all one in the soup of violent creation,’

No one led us here,
We chose our great quest
seeing glamour in brilliant men.
Oppenheimer, a willow man with pipe,
nucleus knowing, singing mantras
of Soma flowing from Pandrapati,
God of the first creation
governing all new creations
without end, forever,
flowing into descriptions,
symbols in equations,
the collisions in the machine.

We looked down on the world
from the Berkeley hill station,
San Francisco, Oakland, a bay, bridges.
All below and our thoughts above,
focused, bending the proton beams,
bending time around and around,
spiraling gyre of emergent mass chasing light.
Wondering at the size, at the silent power
enamored of coincidence of symbol and reality.
Life outside the energy, the community of us,
seems without meanings, washed out,
outside of the school of theorems,
the new sense of the universe.

We are pulled by the minds of singular men.
The eye of Teller, ego bent on power,
powers to burn across the heavens,
our Oppenheirmer exiled-sent to honored limbo.
Our Gods scattered by red-hating Senatores
away to little colleges, elsewhere–
a community broken, but locked in by fervor,
strong wills bending all to one master,
the pulse of cyclotrons, the pulse of driven men,
the pulse of dreams, the pulse of our life.


DRIVING UP THE HILL WE’D SEE deer, rare fowl
Sheltered by the security fences, the walls
around the cyclotron and the growing laboratory
around the new machines we were building.

Driving up the hill at all hours
to feed the machine experiments,
checking counters, scintillation detectors retrieving film,
gentle spirits seeking knowledge, degrees, PhD’s

Driving up the hill, through the gates, layered fences.
Past the armed guards, showing badges, smiling.
Reminded of the ownership, of the power.
Reminded of the limits of expression,
Reminded of the Corporation…

The gentle souls, intellectuals, physicists,
truth seeking, keep private counsel
do their physics, expand abstract wonders
exalt in the crystal clarity of the truth
embodied in matrixed wave functions
embodied in group theory, in the quanta
held in their counters, film , detectors.

Ideas overwhelm the reservations, the dark reflections:
neutrons that take one’s vision,
beryllium dust that spots lungs, and kills,
daily millirad doses on our film badges,
The anemia of those who went to tests
came back to do research or teach
at a distant, safe collage somewhere.

The beauty of physics obscures realities.

And white blood flows in Hiroshima
White blood in the veins of soldiers
sent to trenches near a bomb
by the stupid military, we know
it happened, but it’s secret.

The mind is divided, severed, bright, and dulled
to fit the blanding apple pie, suspicious time.
Apparatchiks, Personnel directors, security men,
Inside the security wall. petty questions, biases.
They scrutinized theorists, Jewish physicists
‘Just necessary these people’, Serber, Oppenheimer, Frank.
They Trust the ‘good’, The blue eyed, and blond,
the experimenters, good old Lawrence,
Alvarez, and doctors killing cancer.
They Trust applied scientists irradiating rabbits
tinkering with thyroids, growing monsters.
They Trust practical workers, engineers
mechanics of unlimited power.

Inside the wall suspicions
‘Do you know any pinko liberals?’
Security everyone’s business.
Fences enclosed the buildings.
Fences enclosed the people, inside and out.
Fences cut through our minds.


A silent presence now spreads
beyond the baked cracked desert,
beyond Oscura’s castellated crest,
growing out, a cancerous wave,
A new wave from glassy hot Trinity,
slower than the quick blast wave
slowly into our life, into our minds
and it split our spirits in twain.

The power to erase all creation,
shakes all creatures on earth,
releases ancient furies
rational thought banished.
We do not know yet, to tremble,
as Icarus knew. The tripartite shrines
forgotten flat stones in Cretan caves.
used to speak of this to us.
Old gods, the trinity of all,
the earth, the mother, and the void/creator
unseen by Christian Moslem Jew
the Chthonic powers are here again.

We erect new concrete steel caves
to placate the unlimited power
the sane and mad have unleashed;
We fear its unfolding use
We fear its deadly residue.

Big Pronouncements, big noises,
grandiose statements on and on,
and I cannot see clearly
any of this
any more.
I mock myself,
these feelings erupt from dark memory,
from having two minds for fifty years afterwards,
all gloom in one mind joy in the private mind
hiding love from power.

Most of us went away still under black security clouds,
still keeping our private lives private,
making livings, making families inventing for the country.
for the corporations making money.
Who are we, what had we hoped for in our wonder?
not these conference tables,
not endless simulations, games computers play.

I watch my friends, their down turned mouths,
Scientists listening to ever new horror
debating merits of multiple warheads
options, hopeless counter measures,
as progress moves faster on
and complexity baffles men,
inside the steel shell of secrecy.
We will not be forgiven for this.

Not knowing the way of gods.
Pandora’s tale of woe forgotten
how good intentions turn black
we didn’t know the best in us
would crack open the monstrous egg.

We will not be forgiven
for dividing work and love,
for accepting progress and practicality,
for accepting nationalism and ownership ,
for dividing this life from love.
We will not be forgiven
for our oaths of secrecy for not speaking
for not telling of radiation, of rusting reactors
of missile roasting lasers, of public lies.

Silent, we retire, leave it all,
Icarus has fallen slowly, aged,
drained, gray, still silent
oaths remembered resented.
And we turn our backs on new men
on the new hot science
tweaking the eye of a new bomb
seeking profits in the codes of life.