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ISSUE:  Spring 2012

Because we’ve seen the power in even a single atom
unchained from its own infrastructural hold,
and know what happens when a mass—the famous
“critical mass”—of atoms are simultaneously unformed
(the woe of Nagasaki is unendurable both
on the level of thousands as well as focused down
to one girl in a blackened field standing with her skin
running off her body like a horrible butter), and even
because we’ve also seen the comic consequences
of static cellular energy made kinetic (I’m thinking
about the outbreak of Chinese watermelons
“exploding like landmines” over “more than 100 acres,”
“from no exterior cause”) … because of all of this
we can almost believe the trashy thriller novel where

a “terrorist scientist” turns a kidnapped woman
—her entire body—into a potential bomb: he only needs
to detonate one atom, and the resultant destruction
will take out an entire city. I don’t remember where
this hopeless victim is abducted from—a ghetto street
in Cairo? New Delhi? Detroit?—but I know Vivienne’s
entire personality was stolen and made explosive
by her own mind, by the atoms of her own mind
reaching a manic-depressive critical mass; and Ross
or the children would find her one day naked
and singing raucously to her guardian angel
“Lola the Wingéd Serpent Girl” at the four-way stop
while traffic was backed up incredulously and the gawkers
cellphoned video shots; and one day placing the blade

against her carotid artery, settled there and fluttering
as delicately as a butterfly, indecisive of what to do
next. It really is reminiscent of A-bomb physics:
all of that latent force, stored from the beginning
in the micro-most of units—in Vivienne’s case,
the chemical subsets in her brain, in her genes,
as surely as in plutonium—and ready for combustion.
Well, for all I know, this tells us how Existence
initially came to exist; that in a previous universe the entire
bonded energy of a single brain exploded—we call it
the Big Bang—and our universe is that one, only
repieced and, necessarily, reshaped by a little. True
or not, I’ll let it serve as symbol of the fiery
creation artistic genius in the arts requires and finds,

sometimes, in the manic-depressive cycle. “I believed,”
said Robert Lowell of a manic-jag illusion of superempowerment,
“I could stop cars by merely standing in the highway
with my arms outspread.” Berryman was thankful even for
especially for—his anguish: “among the greatest pieces of luck
for high achievement is ordeal”; for the most fortunate artist,
“the worst possible ordeal which will not actually kill him.”
and so Vivienne consigned her meds to a toilet flush:
she had her neon tubing installation art, with the magnets
and the snakeskins, to absorb her; and its gods to lift her
deliriously into ecstasyspace; and its gods to flay
her thinking into tangled bloody ribbons—but this latter
was the risk she knew she took … as evolution cares
to risk the well-being of certain of us in the interests

of variety getting written into the species as a whole.
it does this, generation after generation (Berryman’s father
and aunt committed suicide too). Eduardo—Vivienne’s
oldest—wrote a single book of burning genius (it was set
in Nagasaki) and then opened his gut with a workshed knife.
Felice, the youngest, is only mediocre in her talent (she’s
the author of the “trashy thriller” novel I alluded to),
and yet—for whatever it means, or doesn’t—she’s
a high-points scorer on the stability scale,
and clearly remembers the day she chose to leave, remembers
every fish-flake cloud in that November Minnesota sky,
and the traffic moving like tiny parts of a system
devoted to her escape, and the goodbye in her heart, goodbye,
goodbye to her nuclear family and its critical reactions.


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