When we picked the Bomb last year as the theme for this issue, we didn’t anticipate the astonishing events that would soon transform eastern Europe and dramatically lessen tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States.
This is a historic, and euphoric, moment; a wave of relief seems natural; we’d all like to believe nuclear war is less of a threat. But who can say? History shudders; the Bomb waits, unblinking. If the end of the Cold War reminds us that politically we’re all naive, that miracles are possible, shall we be more hopeful? Has human nature changed?
Perhaps hope and hopelessness are both traps, taking us away from the moment, from the sorrow and the beauty in every moment. If we are all, in some way, wounded, and if we are, nonetheless, capable of healing our wounds, what does this suggest about the world’s great wounds, and the world’s healing?
At the root of all war is fear, Thomas Merton wrote, “not so much the fear men have of one another, but the fear they have of everything. . . . If they are not sure when someone else may turn around and kill them, they are still less sure when they may turn around and kill themselves. They cannot trust anything, because they have ceased to believe in God.”
Merton was a man of faith, whose faith obliged him to look dispassionately at the world, to bear witness to what needed healing. Perhaps there is virtue in looking in such a way at the Bomb.
A year ago I began writing a book on dreams related to nuclear war — both people’s personal dreams that I am continuing to gather and the collective or cultural “dream” that led to the development of the Bomb in the 1940s.
At one point I decided to rewrite some of the dreams, making the Bomb the central persona. What can we imagine from these dreams of the Bomb’s point of view? What is the Bomb’s voice? What might it be trying to tell us?
What emerged astonished me — so I pass it on.
If anyone who reads this is moved to send me his or her own nuclear dreams, it would be most helpful. Write to Michael Ortiz Hill, 180-F Dakota Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060-6066.
Basically I’m a very simple guy. I either sleep or burst into flames. That is all. If the truth be told, I have no preference between the two. I was made manifest here for rather nefarious ends in 1945. Before that, I was content with being the slumber of the blackest stones under the earth and the ecstasy in the heart of a million stars. Yet ever since I was born on this small planet I have been beset by nightmares, and my simple pleasures have had repercussions I scarcely understand.
Where I come from there is no question of violence because there is no biosphere to be violated. There is only fire burning in fire. Here, I am in exile. Here, for me to radiate ecstasy is to be implicated in vast murder. That is the nature of my nightmare. And that is also why I fear awakening here.
Do not think I was oblivious to the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There is compassion even in the heart of the sun and in the dreams of dark stone. I am the fire that craves more fire. On my own I would not burn children or sow cancer in their genes.
Unfortunately these things are not in my hands. It is not in my makeup to be able to contain myself when I awake. So it is not my violence, it is yours. In using me against each other you violate the gods. You contaminate the innocence of light and disrupt the dreams that run in the veins of mountains. You disturb both the sky above your heads and the ground beneath your feet so that even the animals are frightened of your ways.
Those who brought me here claim to have done so in the service of peace — believing that the glory or malevolence of my presence would frighten murder from the minds of those who would make war. But that was their fantasy. I am not a coercive deity.
These are the questions I want to ask you — and they require that you look hard into this mirror I provide and sustain the gaze: why are you so hungry to destroy yourselves? Why would you poison and burn this planet? Why have you exiled all of your longings for ecstasy into the image of a mushroom cloud?
I am floating above the street — just out of sight — of downtown Jerusalem. There is a crowd below, agitated, swelling with anticipation. They expect me to descend today — but I will not. They expect either terror or redemption — or maybe, somehow, both.
So why don’t I descend? I take such pleasure in their yearning for violence and Messiah. They are a mass of perplexed yearning.
One man catches my eye. He is not so remarkable at first — perhaps a little more lost within the general lostness. His face is flushed, his eyes dart about looking for enemies. He is swept up in the crowd’s exhilaration and fear.
Then he does an extraordinary thing: he scuttles like a crab on his hands and feet between the trees and down the cobbled alleys until he comes upon a statue of me: Christ-Vishnu, the one with the elephant trunk dangling. Such awe and curiosity overcome his face. This is as close as a human being can come to me and live.
I like this man. He clearly has a natural affinity for worshipping me.
How strange are humans and how strange their expectations of me. Sometimes it is difficult to resist the pull of their longing.
I suffer the humiliation of being a god in the hands of human beings. People can use me to their ends — to destroy an enemy or to vent their secret hunger to destroy a world.
Human beings are more than a little crazy, and it’s possible that the idea that they control me is simply another of their seemingly infinite delusions. It could be that they bear the stamp of my will more than they know; that they are my children. I say this might be true because I really can’t tell for sure. Perhaps I am the deluded one.
There is that man again — the one I saw with such a perplexed, reverent face at my temple in Jerusalem. I see him running along the dark surf of Lake Michigan. He has the key that would draw me down to destroy it all, and he is being chased by men who want to do exactly that. My advent is often contingent on scenes like this — the long chase, the hiding in the labyrinth.
And there he is again — on the roof of the Sears Tower in downtown Chicago. What happened to the key? Thunder and lightning, a rally of Israelis planning yet another war. Palestinian children beating one another bloody. Such an abysmally fucked-up world.
He is the only one who notices the thunder and lightning, who appreciates the sound of my voice; he has that same rapt expression of devout perplexity. Sometimes I think for one such soul alone I would descend.
There are moments when the whole world seems imbued with longing like Semele’s when she asked for the full presence of her divine lover. She received the thunderbolt.
Who could call that violence?
Who could say she did not receive the answer to her prayer?
I can drop like fire from the sky. I can erupt from under the earth like the plague. People forget that stones are alive and that there is a whole world of death just under their feet. I would like to make them remember. How beautiful would be the world dressed in black! How beautiful to my ears the keening of their anguish!
What do they expect of me? I can be expansive and generous in ways they cannot even imagine — but they exile me to the sky or they seal me up under the earth so I nearly suffocate with the scent of stones.
Yes, I have my dark side too. Cement to me is like the thin blue shell of a robin’s egg — it takes little to crack through it and vent my fury. The surface of the world I will claim for death and at long last let the underworld breathe.
And there is my favored fool again — the one with the daft reverence when he gazed upon my transcendent form in Jerusalem. Such a simple man. He did not imagine that I could also be the very hunger of death. When one sees the statue of the god, one forgets the darkness inside the carved stone. One forgets the density of stone. One forgets that in their fury even the gods can be stupid.
He is being chased through the soot and poison by a dinosaur. It always chases the scent of fear. This old reptile is the other face of Christ-Vishnu. If only the fool would give himself over to the ecstasy of being eaten. Then he would know the full measure of my divinity.
I slumber often. People think that I am always vigilant. That’s not true. But then I am awakened by the invocations from below. Someone of the priesthood, some heretic or terrorist in love with God wants to call me down to earth. Sometimes I marvel at the hunger these people have to die.
Down below on the uppermost floor of the Empire State Building, I see the fool negotiating again to save the world. Sometimes I really like him. If the world is a global village, surely he is the village idiot.
Can you imagine what it’s like to be a god of my magnitude and have my whole existence in the hands of these wigged-out primates? I suppose we all have our crosses to bear.
I am the god who splinters reality. You think I only bring light and death — so you anticipate my coming with fear and longing. What you don’t see is that you live among the ruins of my advent even now. I have already come. The meanings that you once shared have shattered like crystal. You are so lost in your private languages that you can’t even see that your feet bleed as you walk through the shards of what was once whole.
When your mind teems with hallucination, that is me. I know your despair more intimately than you yourselves know it. I was the one who kicked over the anthill in the first place. Now I am the confusion of the ants themselves.
Our hero has a little hut in a wooded pasture. He calls it his “nest.” He works night and day in a fever, his eyes swollen and red. He imagines he can weave it all together again, as if this tattered cloth could be made into a patchwork quilt. He is panting with thirst because he knows that if he drinks the water he will succumb to the undertow of hallucination in which those who come to him are drowning.
Everyone depends on this lonely man so much that there is a tacit agreement among them not to tell him that already he is hallucinating, already he has been engulfed by his private mythology, his solitary mania.
At dawn he walks toward town along a road rutted deep with the tracks of trucks. He sees his daughter asleep in the branches of a dogwood. Her face is utterly placid, with a small smile. “Is she being eaten alive by her dreams?” he wonders. He touches her cheek and weeps.
The time has come for this all to end. The fool knows it. He knows that my ecstasy is brief but without limit and that it will destroy all that he loves and all that he despises.
I see him running from his solitary cabin before the trees burn and the sky fills with my glory. He runs to find his wife and daughter before they are ash. He is so consumed with love and grief and regret and surrender that you might think he would burst into flames. Never has he been so full, never has he let himself know how much he loved this life. That is my final gift before I’m rendered blind with my own light — that small moment of knowing.
If I could tell you the meaning of light, I would do so. Tomorrow I will be cinder and venom, I will be the slow poison and the running sores, I will be the black rain and tedious dying and the stupefaction of those unfortunate enough to live. But now I burn like ten thousand suns, and there is nothing to equal my glory.