trinitite

This is a word for crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s – a trinity of each, t t t and i i i, three crosses and three candles (are any other letters left? yes – other letters left: r n e). It taps on the tip of the tongue, with three allophones of /t/: affricated, aspirated, unreleased. All that softens are one liquid (half voiceless) and one nasal. And the e at the end is written but we never hear it.

So what is it, in its entirety? It reminds me of trinitrotoluene, which is usually shortened to TNT. But that’s small-time compared with what we’re dealing with here. The echo of trinity is true and lasting, but we are now facing death, the destroyer of worlds.

July 16, 1945. Trinity nuclear test site, New Mexico. A nuclear bomb is tested, leaving a lasting echo in history. Robert Oppenheimer is reminded of a (not quite accurate) quotation from the Bhagavad Gita: “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” After the fire has glowed in an enormous bright ball, a destroying angel trying to ascend to heaven but at last turned into an enormous toadstool of smoke, and all has cooled down, a layer of glassy rocks is found covering the area. Trinitite – the mineral (-ite) of Trinity.

It’s almost pure silica (quartz), of course: the sands of time, softened into a liquid, fused into a glass. It has unmelted sand stuck to the bottom, and it has many bubbles in it. It was thought at first that it was caused by the sand being melted in place by the blast. Now it is thought that the sand was taken up into the heavens with the fireball and rained back down from the cloud.

If we look into this bubbly dark glass, only lightly radioactive, what will we see? Will we see graveyards, or candles? Will the answer to our questions be on the tips of our tongues, tapping three times? Will we see our aspirations, or will they be unreleased? Our end may be written, but will we hear it?

Perhaps we will see the verse from the Bhagavad Gita, which in Barbara Stoler Miller’s translation is

I am time grown old,
creating world destruction,
set in motion
to annihilate the worlds;
even without you,
all these warriors
arrayed in hostile ranks
will cease to exist.

Or perhaps we will just see what there is to see, a rock that was the sand, for which the hourglass (or quartz watch) has run out, and now it is fused. The future is already here. And what colour is it, this rock of the future, this future in the rock?

Green, as it happens.

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