Oppenheimer and The Pacific Ocean Have Their Weekly Chat, 1939

BY Matt Broaddus

You jet down the coast in that Chrysler of yours carrying a storm. Smoking up the air. That and the cigarettes. Mr. Thunderhead, I'm telling you, I can smell it. The masses of air, columns of water colliding. It's familiar, the scent of disaster on you. I miss the days when you guys rode around in your little boats and I smashed them whenever I felt like it. I was emperor of East and West then. I was sovereign of storms. 

You're still the king elemental. What does it matter if I travel at incredible speed along the coast road getting into car wrecks with friends? I never die. I pick flowers for everyone. Purple, pink, and lilac which is kind of like purple but not. I pick flowers along the beach. When my feet touch the sand a cloud armada forms over you in the distance.

When you first arrived in California I felt like dancing. I was wild for your cumulonimbus hair stacked so high, your cesium blue eyes. I followed you up and down the coast on a highway of white-capped pyramids. I threw cyclones around the ring of fire. 

Who can I hurt, pacing in a tiny office in Berkeley, California, as I build my cities of thought? I am the mayor, travel the avenues, wiggle my eyebrows to make my theoretical palaces behave.

I think I was in love with you for a long time. It was a quiet recognition, like the first billion years when you hadn't been dreamt yet. Just a furnace of vents boiling sulfur in primordial trenches. It was like watching a cluster of stars claw the sky as it spins. And standing still. Lonely, maybe. It's hard to tell the difference between the two.

Loneliness and love are just other words for singularity. 

Other words for catastrophe. Tempest. Typhoon. Tsunami. And all so pretty. You're learning Sanskrit and picking flowers for the faculty members' wives. That storm you carry with you is contagious. I'm beginning to understand how ill I grow around you. Below, volcanoes bloom. Everything that crawls is crawling up my continental shelf. Something is cracking--the world maybe.

So last night I had the guys over for drinks, as you know. Everyone was sad you couldn't make it. I cooked, so it's probably for the best that you didn't show. We started talking about career trajectories, which was really just a veiled conversation about fate. I told them, "I don't ever want to find the thing I'm looking for." To be honest, I'd be dissatisfied to come to a conclusion. I have no terrible vision for myself. I'd prefer not to destroy the whole earth.

Looking across the bay you'll see San Francisco become Tokyo and Tokyo become San Francisco. I'll swallow California, and the sun will drink me up before it eats itself, and the whole spinning accumulation will collapse into a drop.

I miss the horse called Crisis I used to ride around in the desert. I was the only one who could ride him.


Matt reads "Oppenheimer and the Pacific Ocean..."

Matt Broaddus earned his MFA in creative writing from New York University, where he was a Writer in the Public Schools Fellow. His poetry has appeared in LEVELER and is forthcoming in Heavy Feather Review. This year, Matt is curating the poetry for photographer Richard Koek's annual arts magazine celebrating New York City. In the fall, he will begin his PhD in English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Matt currently lives in Virginia.