August 5, 2008 The Arsenal, Central Park, New York City From the Academy Audio Archive

Sentimental Atom Smasher

Darcie Dennigan
So this guy walks into a bar and asks for a beer. Sorry, 
      the bartender says, I only sell atom smashers 

      And the guy says well isn't that America for you—
every happy-hour Nelson's a homemade physicist and no thank you, 

just an ice cold one, but it's too late—suddenly, he's on his butt 
      in a ballfield where handsome men are chasing a ball over grass 

      sad grass, yellow like the hair of his once-young mother! 
and again he says, no thank you—I've seen this movie before 

And the bartender says it's a joke and you're inside its machine... 

      Hey, the guy wants to say—I'm not the guy—I'm me 
I'm just a guy who walked into a bar. I'm just a guy who retreats 

to his car for a private cry. Instead he sniffs and cries out—
      The sky smells like the bologna from when I was a boy! 

      Ahh, says the bartender, ahh yes. Someone has left 
the refrigerator door of the cosmos open a crack 

And the view! cries the guy. The beauty of an atom smasher, 
      says the bartender, even from the cheap seats you see 

      clear into 1952. And the guy, squinting into the distance, 
starts to bawl. Maybe it's the vendors hawking 

commemorative popcorn, or the programs promoting emotion 
      ("the matter of the universe!") printed on material whose pulp 

was milked from the trunk of a winesap apple tree, but— 
      What's the matter? says the bartender. And the guy says, 

I'm confused. Am I allowed to be homesick in a joke? 
       Yes, the bartender says. It's elemental, the bartender says—

 
       How streets are downtrodden atoms and falling leaves are aflutter 
atoms and beer is over-the-moon atoms. The moon's an atomizer 

of all matter's perfumes: And the guy starts to parse it out— 
       Wait, I'm not smart, but if emotion's a material substance 

       then when a leaf falls in my lap and I hold it, 
like an about-to-be-abandoned baby, I'm touching "aflutter" in 3-D? 

Dear fluttering leaf! 
Streets—I'm sorry for stepping on you! Apples—for coring you, and beer—

* * *
 
A guy walks into a bar, 

—actually just the beer-drinking bleachers of a ballfield—and says 
       is this some kind of joke? 

       Well, says the bartender who has observed the little lamb 
and the tyger burning bright and tickled their particulates, 

because your life has lately been stagnant, we have yoked you 
       to a joke and we await the gasp that will gas up the cosmos... 

       Just then, there's a hit at the plate—and it's going, 
it's going—gone to smash the guy in the skull 

       And since baseballs are made of nostalgia atoms, the guy, 
with concussion, says I want to buy a coke for a nickel 

       I want to install apple pie perfumemakers in the crotch of every tree 
Bartender, bring me dried nosegays! Start the stalwart pageants! 

        And the moon's spritzing its perfumes and the phlegm is thick and fast 
And the bartender says time to wallow in byproducts: 

        Where we planted peanut shells, we got shaky, palsied trees 
Where we planted nickel cokes, we got nicked cans 

Where we planted baseballs we grew large, sad eyeballs 
        as we watched for something to grow. Still, still 

        we atom-probe: In a dark building a child is 
about to be born. The smell of bread is about to 

        break. And our guy is going, O spring evenings! 
How I used to stand yelping in the alley by the bakery... 

        Who are these boys throwing baseballs? Who is this baby? 
O bartender, tell me, what is the message in this light rain? 

But the bartender's dark eyes are flying 
        over centerfield, over the rooftops and watertowers of the joke's 

        universe, over alleys and cold valleys of refrigerator light 
toward an aptest eve where these street kids are hurling a ball into 

the moonlight and the moonlight is curdling into freon... 
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From Corinna A-Maying the Apocolypse, published by Fordham University Press. Copyright © 2008 by Fordham University Press. Used with permission.

From Corinna A-Maying the Apocolypse, published by Fordham University Press. Copyright © 2008 by Fordham University Press. Used with permission.

Darcie Dennigan

by this poet

poem
The child affixes one of her little pictures to my refrigerator. 
She asks, Can you detect the radiation? 

There is a house, one tree, and grass in dark slashes. A sun
shining. Beneath, in her child letters, she has written Chernobyl. 

At kindergarten they must be having nuclear energy week. 

One could
poem

The infant asleep in the trough is a Buddhist.
This time of year is very, very old. Over eggs, 
that is all we can conclude, us who are asleep, 
who are dreaming this long dream. 
What if this infant could be awoken? 
There is someone in heaven who for centuries 
an infinite