Poem of the Week | September 27, 2011

This week we’re proud to feature a new poem, “The Atoll,” by Darcie Dennigan. Dennigan is the author of Corinna A-Maying the Apocalypse. She is an associate editor at H_NGM_N and a poet in residence at UConn. She lives in Providence.

 

 

 

Author’s Note:

–I wrote this poem before the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that triggered a nuclear disaster in Japan, in the world; the poem was inspired by the “Bikini Atoll” entry in the Domesday Dictionary.
–I think the poem fails me, if not itself, because I couldn’t make the speaker sound sincerely sorry.
–And I wanted to.
–And he is.
–It’s that voice, the voice of trade-offs made on good authority by a bewildered trader, that interests me. I thought at first that it was a politician’s voice, but I traffic in trade-offs just as much, more so, daily. “I wish to remain a phony the rest of my life.”
–If I thought about any formal element in poetry when I’m writing, it would be voice. Not mine. Or anyone else’s.
–Alice Notley writes: “The voice of the poem isn’t interested in the poet at all.”

The Atoll

Even the children, and the very little ones at that, did not die just any child’s death; they pulled themselves together and died that which they already were, and that which they would have become…This and much more have we… very fortuitously… learned from the Atlanteans… The Atlanteans… it was all so very lucky… We’d been testing fission… fusion… fission… They were downwind… just enough… not too much… If the rain falls too lightly it’s no good… if too heavily… obviously… Upon the lovely dark-haired Atlanteans the rain fell just right… … …All Atlanteans, we said over the loudspeaker… All Atlanteans must exit the island… They were nodding… bowing… Maybe politeness… maybe because of the vomiting… We escorted them… to a very nice… resort-like… laboratory… Would you like another martini, we were heard to say… frequently… It turns out… Strontium loves bones… it just loves bones… and cesium 37 rests in the eyes… and gamma rays go right to the blood… And the miracle was… we were hard-pressed to find a morbid… process… That is… none of the Atlanteans made an untimely… egress… Yes there were lesions…sorecuts… Many of the men who’d been wearing shorts… many of their… And there were the usual number of miscarriages… maybe a bit more… but nothing too… measurable… But the children…! They were the most… interesting… Their skin…! it began turning golden… not the gold of tans but of… metal, gold metal… chemically elemental… positively ductile… And their teeth… their teeth had turned ebony immediately… But the amazing… thing… was the glowing ring around the pate of each bald kid head… Dear Atlanteans we are sorry to inform you… But the Atlanteans… were… smiling… They… thanked us… patted our lab jackets… Then they turned away from us… They turned back to the children… in the sand… building castles… and alphabets… and… grand frigates… with sand yes… but also with pieces of… They were building pillars of… bone… they built a frieze… with an image of the sun… it was a sun the size of a heart… a heart the size of the fist of a kid… They were playing in the sand with their own skin and organs… Dear Atlanteans… We are sorry to… But the Atlanteans were a gracious people… One Atlantean father… picking up a black tooth… the tooth of a child… He smiled… He said, Are you getting all this…? Never had we dreamed of… we’d been used to rats for our tests… Never had we dreamed of such… solicitousness…

 

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