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Books & Poetry

Poem: Sir Mark Oliphant

Books & Poetry

This week’s Poet’s Corner contribution comes from Claire Watson.

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Sir Mark Oliphant

Prince Henry Gardens, North Tce

Set back from the road and obscured by trees –
you only see it when you step off the path –
the bust of Mark Oliphant. Its size belies
his giant intellect: few are able to see
the atomic rhythms, the crash and aftermath
of fiery collisions. He saw with opened eyes

not only the fusion of nuclei but the weight
of that insight: the vast energy release
that powered the stars, available on earth.
Knowledge is neutral yet we realise too late
it never remains so, for human caprice,
greed and ambition lead to the birth

of twisted wisdom, kidnapped from the womb
and forced to serve its masters, yet in the end
it recoils on its captors. Oliphant was appalled
that his findings within a cloistered room
exploded into a wound no-one could mend
yet he could not help but feel enthralled

his research was successful. It was a case
of lesser and greater evils, he later said,
for the same technology harnessed by their foes
was unthinkable. Back then, it was a chase
to win the war, to minimise the dead,
and preserve the lives of those you chose.

Such conflict in the minds of scientists is cruel
for love drives their work. Their passion is found
in mining the secrets their coy mistress conceals:
the contrary earth who flaunts her jewels
yet remains demure. She marks out the bounds
of what remains undiscovered, despite their appeals.

Oliphant was resting with friends in Wales
when Little Boy fell. The sky was powder blue
and dotted with clouds; children laughed outside,
while in Hiroshima, smoke swallowed wails
and contaminated earth settled like an eerie dew
that the sun could not melt, no matter how it tried.

Claire Watson is a Salvation Army officer living in Murray Bridge. She turned to poetry after the death of her daughter Hannah in 2014, and her memoir ‘Fingerprints of Grace’ was published in 2017. Her poems have been published in various Australian and overseas journals, including Eunoia, The Lyric Review and Meniscus. Her manuscript collection, ‘A Glimpse of Light’, was highly commended in judging for the 2022 Friendly Street New Poets competition.

Readers’ original and unpublished poems of up to 40 lines can be emailed, with postal address, to Submissions should be in the body of the email, not as attachments. A poetry book will be awarded to each accepted contributor.


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