CHICAGO


The Atomic Age began at 3.25 PM on December 2, 1942 – quietly, in secrecy,

on a gloomy squash court under the west stands of old Stagg Field.

 

What do trees know?

Their dead leaves roll

down Ellis Avenue, sodden

with snow blown past steep gray sides

of a boarded-up stadium,

drifted in steppes on abandoned stands.

 

Cheers may come later.  For now

tension snakes through the freezing cube

of this court crammed with

its own cube:  a ziggurat

made of black bricks nestling cans

and control rods -- fifty-some layers

 

inside square-timbered walls. 

Tension; and fear.  Fear of failure.

Faint terror of too much success:

reactions unchained like a

Frankenstein, rising and rising

in the old doctor’s lab. 

 

That’s what they feel, hunched in

stiff wool suits on the catwalk,

fists jammed in pockets, puffing

breaths in the cold.  Math is exact

but fission’s still fickle; splitting

an atom seems dice magnified.

 

Yet it’s science, not fiction:

no flickering dials

just a needle on paper scratching

slow upward curves.  The leaves show

what’s clear then:  fruit plucked

or fallen cannot attach again.


First published by Atomic Heritage Foundation at https://www.atomicheritage.org/key-documents/chicago (January 2019)