Michelle Penn

Retablo for blast glass

Sentimentality is a sign
of self-
abnegation, he tells me

and I think of trinitite: sand
drawn into the fiery helmet of the burn, then raining
back to earth, batter my heart and all that shit. Pale green
blistered and bubbled through, clicking
the sensors toward hysteria.

Don’t get sentimental. It’s all fallout.

Make of me a fire eater. Let me taste the flame, its surge
across the tongue. Fill me with breath to push the embers high,
melt away every word. Make of me a sword swallower, a woman-
turned-mood-machine, white lights flashing
harmless, frigid, tender, torrid.

Am I sentimental yet?

As the sky spills its ruin.
As technology performs its taunt.
As all I feel shrinks to a scatter, hazardous to the touch.



Retablo for blast glass borrows ‘Batter my heart,’ from John Donne’s 1633 Holy Sonnet XIV. The poem addresses the Trinity and inspired Robert Oppenheimer, inventor of the atomic bomb, with a code name for the site of the first test (16 July 1945). The blast glass formed by the explosion was called trinitite and as it was radioactive, the US government made it illegal for visitors to remove it from the test site. To be scientifically correct, blast glass didn’t only contain melted sand but trace materials from the bomb itself.


Michelle Penn’s debut pamphlet, Self-portrait as a diviner, failing (2018), won the Paper Swans Prize. Her book-length poem, Paper Crusade, will be published by Arachne Press in June 2022. Recent work has appeared in Butcher’s Dog, Bad Lilies, Berfrois, PN Review and Tentacular. Michelle plans innovative poetry/art/music events as part of Corrupted Poetry. She’s also a member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen.

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