The Cloud That Contained the Lightning

Cynthia Lowen. Univ. of Georgia, $16.95 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-0-8203-4564-2
This debut, a National Poetry Series selection, channels the voice of J. Robert Oppenheimer, “father of the atomic bomb.” Lowen imagines war-ravaged Japan, which resembles a kind of cancer: “white heads of cauliflower/ blooming from the cavity,/ tissue aggregating tissue,/ tumors of white fire against the black/ negative.” Broken into five sections, the poems follow Oppenheimer’s work on the atom bomb, from its testing in New Mexico, codenamed “Trinity,” to the measured discussion of “The Target Committee.” Lowen’s poems are expertly crafted and chiseled to a brittle, often stinging essence. Recurring throughout the book, the haunting voices of the children of Cronos who “devoured his own brood/ saying, This is to protect you/ from becoming like me” offer eerie wisdom. “Hibakusha,” the title of several of these poems, is a Japanese word that literally means “explosion-affected people.” Reading this book against the contemporary backdrop of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster and worries about weapons of mass destruction falling into the wrong hands gives the poems a deep resonance. Lowen’s last “Hibakusha” poem, written in the voice of a girl, recalls, “I loved that dress, and now I wear it on my skin/ forever.” (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 12/02/2013
Release date: 09/01/2013
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