The Narrative of History is a Slippery Thing

Meanders Juanita Rockwell

Lise Meitner: Austrian physicist, Ghost.


If this were a Japanese Noh Drama
I would be standing on a cliff above a ravine
And I would tell her a story.
Maybe I’d warn her of the terrible thing that will happen today to a city at the other side of the world.
But I am no ghost.

I was still very much alive
On that particular summer day when a city was destroyed by the power of atomic fission.
That fission which had once been so beautiful to me.
I was in Stockholm that day, so I am no ghost.
At least not to her.
But to you, now, in this room,
I guess I am a ghost.
So I will tell you the story.

In all the years since my death
I return here again and again
To this sixth day of August, 1945.
Sometimes I am under a stadium in Chicago
For that very first chain reaction. .
And sometimes I am in a desert in New Mexico
As The Gadget detonates for the first time.
Sometimes, when I cannot stop myself,
I’m on an island looking up at a blinding light in the sky
As hell rains down around me.
But for now I am here
In this Secret City in the mountains.

I miss my Viennese accent, the German language,
My own body.
But in my current state of… “being” —
For lack of a better word —
My tongue and appearance seem to suit the occasion:
Your occasion.
This appeals to my sense of practicality
Yet somehow leaves me a little sad.

I went where I had to, during the war.
And then, of course, afterwards,
I was invited everywhere.
They said I smuggled the bomb out of Germany
In a suitcase.
The narrative of history is a slippery thing.


Exploratory monologue for the character of LISE, inspired by physicist Lise Meitner, one of many women I am currently researching for:
(edit March 2017: now titled Splitting Atoms With a Butter Knife)
Written during a residency at Djerassi Resident Artist Program
As part of Scientific Delirium Madness 3.0, July 2016

Juanita Rockwell

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