The Testimony of J. Robert Oppenheimer

Ai

A Fiction

When I attained enlightenment,I threw off the night like an old skin.My eyes filled with lightand I fell to the ground.I lay in Los Alamos,while at the same timeI felltoward Hiroshima,faster and faster,till the earth,till the morningslipped away beneath me.Some say when I hit,there was an explosion,a searing wind that swept the dead before it,but there was only silence,only the soothing baby-blue morningrocking me in its cradle of cumulus cloud,only rest.There beyond the blur of mortality,the roots of the trees of Life and Death,the trees William Blake called Art and Sciencejoined in a kind of Gordian Knoteven Alexander couldn't cut.To me, the ideological highwireis for fools to balance on with their illusions.It is better to leap into the void.Isn't that what we all want anyway?—to eliminate all pretensetill like the oppressed who in the endidentifies with the oppressor,we accept the worst in ourselvesand are set free.In high school, they told meall scientistsstart from the hypothesis "what if"and it's true.What we as a brotherhood lack in imaginationwe make up for with curiosity.I was always motivatedby a ferocious need to know.Can you tell me, Gentlemen,that you don't want it too?—the public collapse,the big fall smooth as honey down a throat?Anything that gets you closerto what you are.O, to be born again and againfrom that dark, metal womb,the sweet, intoxicating smell of decaythe imminent dead give offrising to embrace me.But I could say anything, couldn't I?Like a bed we make and unmake at whim,the truth is always changing,always shaped by the latestcollective urge to destroy.So I sit here,gnawed down by the teethof my nightmares.My soul, a wound that will not heal.All I know is that urge,the pure, sibylline intensity of it.I bartered my humanity for it;so have you.Now, here at parade's endall that matters:our military in readiness,our private citizensin a constant frenzy of patriotismand jingoistic pride,our enemies endless,our need to defend infinite.Good soldiers,We do not regret or mourn,but pick up the guns of our fallen.Like characters in the funny papers,under the heading"Further Adventures of the Lost Tribe",we march past the third eye of History,as it rocks back and forthin its hammock of stars.We strip away the tattered fabricof the universeto the juicy, dark meat,the nothing beyond time.We tear ourselves down atom by atom,till electron and positron,we become our own transcendent annihilation.

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Photo of Ai
Photo:
Heather Conley

Ai (1947-2010) is the author of eight books of poetry, including the National Book Award–winning Vice. In 2009 she was named a United States Artist Ford Fellow. She was a professor at Oklahoma State University.

Cover of Michigan Quarterly Review Winter 2021

Winter 2021: Celebrating Sixty Years

Ann Arbor, Michigan

University of Michigan

Editor
Khaled Mattawa

Poetry Editor
Katie Willingham

Managing Editor
H.R. Webster

Michigan Quarterly Review is an interdisciplinary and international literary journal, combining distinctive voices in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, as well as works in translation. Our work extends online as well, where we publish cultural commentary alongside reviews and interviews with writers, artists, and cultural figures around the world. The flagship literary journal of the University of Michigan, our magazine embraces creative urgency and cultural relevance, aiming to challenge conventions and address long-overdue conversations. As we continue to promote an expansive and inclusive vision, we seek work from established and emerging writers with diverse aesthetics and experiences.

Twice a year, we curate an array of perspectives on a single theme. Past special issues have included writing on the Flint Water Crisis, the Great Lakes, Greece, China, and Caregiving.

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