Living With the Atom

Patrick O'Reilly

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As featured in Vol. 3.1, "Living With the Atom" is an eerie poem loaded with contemporary concern and a century of tension. With irony and wittiness, O'Reilly's brief piece will have you contemplating the absurd. / Image: Max Côté-Fortin, Sketches for a school project I never submitted, 2019, Digital. Vol. 3.1

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Yolk began as an electric conversation around a picnic table in Saint Henri Square.

Our scruffy pioneer and present prose editor had previously approached each of us with an idea, a vision: We would establish our own literary magazine in Montreal. And so it was, or so it would be. After that original encounter, eight individuals devoted to the word resolved that they would gather bi-weekly, on Sundays, and bring something new into this busy, manic world—something that might slow its spin down somewhat and cause its patronage to say: “You know what, it ain’t so bad, is it, Susan?”

We are undergraduate, graduate, and graduated students of writing. Some of us learn our craft formally from accomplished authors in seminar courses, and some of us learn by looking out the window of the world and onto the streets that sing below. Some of us learn from screaming squirrels, old curtains, departed grandfathers, and bowel movements. We learn from old lovers, long winters, imperfect mothers, and from the deep internet where a musical genius remains entombed.

Yolk is cold floors on Sabbath mornings, home-brewed ginger beer in the endless afternoon, and downpours of French-pressed coffee in assorted artisanal mugs. Our first official gathering was scheduled for a duration of two hours; most of us remained for six, departing only to attend to the summons of our own beckoning realities. Together, with time suspended, we talked endlessly of contributing something to disrupt Montreal’s literary ecosystem. Something unparalleled, something true.

But what? There was nothing to discuss. There was everything to discuss.

We volunteer our time, hounding some elusive beast composed of combustible words and works. We are hopeful, truly hopeful, that we can give something new, a new way, a new light, and that if we cannot, we might at least uphold the traditions of our predecessors, cast star-wide nets to capture their echoes. We are a thousand decisions. We are a sanctuary for the orphaned word, the solitary writer, the cereal-eating artist who yearns for company, for the comfort of a like mind; we sit together with them at foggy dawn, it rains a baptism, with our arms and hands intertwined, we form an umbrella—underneath, they scribble madly, the perfect picture.

Yolk in no way presumes to be superior to its contemporaries, but its contemporaries should not presume yolk to be anything other than loud—quite, quite loud. We are yippidy jazzed to address the oh-so-technicolorful magnificence of the human experience, but we are prepared also to address the ugliness, to stare at its wet, hairy snout and into its square depth and to roar in return at the things that yearn to devour our skin, beset our ethos, and dig graves in our own backyards.

There’s so much to say, there’s so much we don’t know, but together, with you, we can placate that ignorance, render it peaceful, tolerable, and perhaps even, fucking beautiful.

And Susan says, “Amen.”

is a bit like living with a spider.
The atom is tidy, keeps to itself, doesn’t say much.
It doesn’t futz with the thermostat,
doesn’t bring home losers,
pays its share of the bills on time to the nearest tenth of a cent.
But late at night, when I want to be sleeping,
I hear it through the walls: 
HIRO-SHI-MA. HIRO-SHI-MA.
 
quietly,
like it’s rooting for the world’s smallest football team.

I’ve tried to evict the atom
but I come home to find it
slung across my Lay-Z-Boy
like nothing happened,
watching tv commercials from the 1950s (“When the atom was king!”).
Sometimes it jokes we’re a nuclear family.
Sometimes it asks what I thought of Chernobyl
and frowns when I praise Jared Harris.

Patrick O'Reilly is a writer and archivist from Renews, NL, now living in Montreal/Tiohti:áke. His first chapbook, A Collapsible Newfoundland, was published by Frog Hollow Press in 2022. Recent work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Yolk, Crab Apple Lit, and as part of the Atlantic Vernacular Project.

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