Helium


Helium--August 18, 1868

Janssen
stared, with Newton's eyes, at the tenuous,
radiant crown of the sun.
He found new light.
Within speckled, umbral darknesses, within total
eclipse, he looked and found
the flicker of new colours and
the colours had no names. Within brief, chill
shadows of a pallid moon, he looked and he discovered
glowing ashes of the sun, and
the chill
did not leave him
when the golden sun returned.


Helium--1881

Palmieri
braved Vesuvius and snatched away its
stinking, poisoned, roaring breath, and
when he burned the vulcan air
he looked and found within the flames
the gentle, yellow sigh
of the sun,
earthbound.


Helium--1895

Ramsay
gathered ancient rocks and stones and then he
crushed them. In a simple forge, he
fired fragments of the rocks, and dust,
until the pulverizing and the heat
had forced the stones to render up their secrets--
wisps of vapour, nearly weightless,
never gathered, never seen. And then he
struck a lightning spark
and Ramsay looked and saw
the colours of the sun and,
in his hands, he held
the ashes of the sun,
freed from the earth.


Helium--1896

Bequerel
discovered active fragments of the earth
which charged the air and caused
gold leaves to rise, trem-
ble, fall. In total
darkness, photographs were fogged, and shadows
cast by unknown rays--invisible, de-
manding sacrifice of youth and life-
blood for a chance
at understanding. In
disintegrating darkness, zincblende crystals
scintillated
blue-white, flameless, siren sparks. Bequerel

forgot the sun and Curie
was seduced and blinded by the tiny, blue-white flashes
in her velvet, pitch-
blende darkness. Both discovered
(neither under-
stood) the phosphorescent secrets
of the earth
and wind
and (gently
warm, as if alive, the
patient echoes) of the
sun.


Helium--1909

Rutherford
encapsulated luminous, quintessent,
shattered crystals--sparse and
bitter grains of widow
Curie's toil and courage and
her numb determination and her sudden, weary years--salts,
shards she recrystallized from the mother liquor, she
extracted, she purified, she distilled, she condensed from
mountains of living rock and which she
offered--and he took, and he
encapsulated these
crumbs,
blazing alpha rays (you
cannot imagine the flame), he
sealed these incandescent gifts
in a membrane, a chalice of glass, fire-blown using his
breath, and he placed this beacon, this warm seed in-
to a vessel brimming with quicksilver,
gravid, dense (you
cannot imagine the weight) and then for six
days and for six nights
he waited and he calculated and he dreamed and on the
seventh day he
drained the quicksilver and he saw
the void was filled with alpha rays, transmuted and tamed, and he
struck a lightning spark and
there, held in his hands, was the
flicker
of distant
suns, long-dead (you
cannot imagine their deaths), faint
in the dim, grey Manchester
dawn.


Helium--July 16, 1945

Oppenheimer
lit his pipe and shielded his eyes and, later,
swore he had been plagued by visions of Krishna
and of Vishnu, made flesh in the desert by man (who
could imagine a third god?), in the
shivering, premature
dawn, in the desert. Not
by visions of Abraham or Budda or
Gilgamesh or Christ in their
deserts. No
matter. After
a flash of, after


Helium--August 6, 1945

a flash of
something less
than a thousand
suns,
the patient, silent dust was waiting, after


Helium--August 9, 1945

a flash, the patient dust
of an untold number of dead
suns (we
could now begin to imagine
their deaths)--transformed, revitalized
in a spasm, an echo, a remembrance of
death--floated, fell, fragmented
and mingled with the ashes of the earth.
Noiseless, now, invisible and
insignificant,
ashes of the
sun
were spit
into the
wind.


Helium--November 1, 1952

Men
stared, with Newton's eyes, into the luminous,
radiant heart of their minor
sun. They found
old, familiar light.
Within the brief, ascendant fire-
ball, they looked and they confirmed syn-
thesis of (we
can now imagine we are)
ashes of the sun
(gods).



JDP 97/04


Copyright John D Porter © 1997

This effort was suggested by a poem published by Chelsea Corazon
in rec.arts.poems, about the helium-filled balloons at her
birthday party when she was a child.

At one time, helium was the most exotic substance known--it was
discovered in the sun and it wasn't clear that it could exist
anywhere but the sun. Before 1908, less than 360 litres had been
isolated and its cost couldn't even be contemplated.
Helium has remarkable properties. In this poem,
I have concentrated on the discovery and eventual synthesis
of the element.

Oppenheimer's quotes regarding the Trinity test, Alamogordo, NM, 1945/07/16:

Bhagavad Gita 11:12
If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst forth at once in the sky,
that would be like the splendor of the Mighty One.

Vishnu, in the Bhagavad Gita
I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.




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