I soon grew tired of turning litmus strips
from pink to blue and blue to pink again.
Remember, scientists were blasting men
into space, soldiers were scanning radar blips,
anticipating planetary ire.
My Gilbert Chemistry Set was puny stuff—
a clever mixture might produce a puff
of smoke, some ashes, nothing to inspire
respect or terror. Bottles wheezed and popped.
A plaster cone, red dye, some soap, dry ice
and water produced a punk Vesuvius.
Defeated, dulled, this fledgling chemist stopped.
Beside the model train, which satisfied,
for now, my lust for wreckage, silent vials
lay still, half-full of fallow chemicals.
Solutions bloomed stalagmites. Projects died
while dad concocted other formulae.
Scotch and soda might crystallize a truth,
sorrow derive from gin and dry vermouth.
The whole house quaked when rocks contacted rye.
We children shuddered under cotton sheets,
much as we had beneath the wooden desks
in Catholic school, where we had learned the risks
of communism’s mushroom-clouded threats.
This marked my brief return to chemistry.
I dusted off the Gilbert set, and fixed
a cocktail, all the fading compounds mixed
with a dose of pilfered Gilbey’s Extra Dry.
The blast resulting when I calmly slipped
a live extension cord into the brew
engulfed the room in smoke and sparks, and blew
the fuse box. Still, I would have gladly sipped—
had mom not lunged from darkness, swept me up,
and wrenched from me my hapless bitter cup.