Maggie Cleveland

Hailing from the seacoast town of Fairhaven, Massachusetts, Maggie Cleveland works as a writer in the elevator industry and lives as a proud mama of two fierce little girls. She’s the director of the New Bedford (MA)-based Whaling City Review LIVE poetry series and the author of The Kids Ate My Homework: A New Bedford Area Resource Guide for Adult Students with Children (2008). Her poems have been published in qarrtsiluni, the Newport Review, Amerarcana: A Bird & Beckett Review, Out of Our, Flying Fish, Elephant, Wallet Scrap, and …like this. Maggie holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College in Plainfield, VT.

Atom Fish: Prologue


Invisible from where I sit,
you insist
these happenings

are real, their

odd combinations
can create anything –

china doll,
oak tree, elephant,
fish –

red banana,

jasmine rice –

a blue orb
swirled with white –


NEW YORK, Aug. 17 – (AP) –
Hydrogen bombs are sometimes called atomic fish,
while atom bombs are atomic matches. The atomic fish
are the particles which form all atoms.

There are only three particles – neutrons, protons, and electrons.
Two or more of them get together to form any atom.


Atom Fish: 1

On my dirty harbor beach
a half mile
from the sewage treatment plant,
a mile from the Superfund
river that
   flows through

it is almost safe
for swimming.

They want
to build a river walk
and a boat house-

(fine if you don’t fall in)

like when I was five, we all thought nothing
of bathing in a soup of laughter and PCBs
at East & West Beach

like when my father was a kid
and jumped into the muck hole
at Sullivan’s Ledge to save the poor dog
who fell in

to the quarry –

It was a sunny day.


in the guise of
a slippery fish

flopped up on the dock
near the boats
and waited to die.


Why are they like fish? Because they change weight,
like fish in or out of water. A fisherman never weighs his catch
under water, where the buoyancy would cut the weight.


Atom Fish: 2

a rough rope net,

hands reeking of diesel,
buckets of brine,
salt air –

the bent ends
of cigarettes pushed down
in brown sand.

A car barrels
over the causeway. Under black
water, silver gills



The three atomic particles act just like the fish.
They weigh less after they enter the nucleus
of an atom than when they are outside.


Atom Fish: 3

Is it that my eyes are older
or that I’ve grown
more of them?

Was it me who changed,

or did the sea floor

turn inside-out,

the water become the air, the sheen
of purple green oil
glistening on the surface
of the harbor,
on the cillia

of our lungs?

Atom Fish:
when you shed
your heavy scales,
slipped through
the meniscus

did the mercury in your belly
float or sink?


The loss of mass when these particles join up
in atoms makes the H-bomb. The mass they lose
in forming helium turns mostly into heat. This heat
may be hotter even than the centers of stars.


Atom Fish: 4

On land, one generation removed
from child-uncles crouched
under desks when alarm bells rang,

we were

the last of those

who scanned the ground for shelter
when the planes flew overhead,

who giggling,

scuttled by

fallout signs

they’d nailed

to the doors of our schools, our

voices hollow and pale,
lighter than air,

the first
to take for granted a legacy

that could sear us

with the heat

of stars.