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Let us have no science without art

June 22, 2019

 

Several people who heard me read this on the stage at the Margaret Atwood event have written to ask for a copy of this poem.  This poem is written to be performed -- it's a bit melodramatic on the page -- but it was a barn burner on the day (as poems about the Haber Bosch process usually are) and I am glad to share the text.  

 

 

 

There was once a man named Fritz Haber

(Let us have no science without art.)

Who in a time when Europe was starving

(Let us have no science without art)

Learned to cool and crush

The atmospheric nitrogen.

(Let us have no science without art.)  

It’s called the Haber process, and it gave us

the first fertilizer.  They sang of it:

Bread from the Air.

(Let us have no science)  Haber saved us,

Made  us seven billion.  But the thing about cool and crush

(without art)  is that it has many uses.  

 

There was once a man named Fritz Haber.  

A German.  An assimilated Jew.  

(Let us have no science without art.)

Who in 1916 for the Ministry of War

cooled and crushed

chlorine into canisters.

(Let us have no science without art.)

 

 

Who took those canisters to the Belgium trenches

To study those waves of green and terror.

Let us have no science.  Let us not say

Heavier than air, when we mean it poured,

When we mean it slunk

a wave of rats into the belly of the trench.  

Let us not say 67 thousand men

 

Let us have no science without art.

There was once a man – a German, a Chemist, a Jew.

Fritz Haber came home from the front

Full of discovery.  He threw a party.

(Let us have no )

At which his wife shot herself.  He left her dying

And went to gas again.  They gave him, later,

a Nobel Prize. They exiled him later – to England, Switzerland.

The best chemists of his age spat in his face.

And which would you?   Close your eyes.

Say with me:  let us have no science. There’s nitrogen

in my body – one molecule in three

Are implicated.  There’s chlorine in my DNA.

 

Let me tell you one more story.  

 

There was once a man

Named Fritz Haber, who fed the world

By learning to condense and manufacture gasses.  

He made nitrogen fertilizer, chlorine weapons, and

One thing more:  a cyanide, an insecticide called Zyclon.

With its warning smell removed, at Auschwitz, Zyclon B,

where the Haber family --

Let us have no history.   

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