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Particles on the Wall 2nd edition from Healthy World Press

 


 

 Nancy Dickeman

Kathleen Flenniken

Irene Hays

William Witherup

Chelsea Bolan

  • Riddles
  • Dont Get Panicky

David Hedges

 


 

B-REACTOR: HANFORD: A NATIONAL MONUMENT

Wind gusting down the Columbia
And scouring the scablands
Is filled with the moaning voices
Of Nagasaki dead.

A mutant dragon fly
Sips a chemical cocktail
From a dank cooling pond.
Coyote has a tumor on his tongue,

And Magpie is blind -
See her hopping in circles,
Dragging her wings
And once- saucy tail?

Grave, mausoleum, sarcophagus -
I search for a new word
To name my loathing and disgust
For what now will amuse gaping tourists.

- William Witherup, August 28, 2008
Info on B-reactor

 


 

Once by Hanford Reach

I cupped an exploded milkweed pod---
The air so still
Seeds would not shake out;
The light in the husk
Both blinding and delicate---
Like that moment at Ground Zero
When eye pods implode
Dark seeds of death-light

---Richland, 1985
- William Witherup

 


 

Fiftieth Anniversary, Remembrance

After a summer of calm and heat,
the pink calla lily's one bloom curled under,
the day has fallen to wind
and water, the lake's still sheen overcome
with concentric crests. A crowd
has gathered in remembrance, Hiroshima
caught beneath their tongues, fusion of history
and the unspeakable: moment when light
shattered the city, a man pushing a cart
turned to shadow,

a figure wrapped around a huge cup
as though the skeleton
were indelible, the image burnished
into the stone path. There is no
absolution only sorrow, lanterns set in the water
with hope the dead may rest. The crowd lines
the dock lowering the lit boxes
into the lake, the ramp glowing with candlelight
and the bent shapes. I have sent mine off
with shared wishes for the past and future,

time's culmination. The thick stalks along the bank
weave a line that holds
the lanterns returned to shore,
paper sheaths singed by flame,
smoke and ash floating
across the moon's changing face in the water -
shard, flask, a scrim of filament
and fossil - and across the open wild irises,
their yellow petals flared
like torches circling the lake.

- Nancy Dickeman, August 8, 2009

 


 

The Baker of Pies

This trip Rose bakes pumpkin pies;
She is never so happy as when transmuting
Dough and sugar. How many cherry, peach,
Pumpkin and apple pastries have fissioned
From her eighty-three-year-old fingers?

Last August it was deep-dish blueberry
Made for her elder son.
But the pie leapt from its dish,
Nearly scalding her leg; left
A purple double-helix on the carpet.

 

Today I am raking leaves; carrying on
Conversation with the sycamores.
They signal they can smell the spice,
Sugar and pumpkin working their alchemies.

Thirty miles northeast from the family duplex
Hanford tank-sludge cooks and shifts
From stable to unstable---the ticking nuclides
Not musical, unlike the drum-brushing branches.

AEC/DOE might have put mother
In charge of a tank farm.
No crust would have been unpinched;
No detail overlooked; no graft or lies.

Inside the house a mild November
Afternoon, an old woman with a nose
For chemistry has her hand on the controls;
Sniffs the wind and watches the boilers
As we sail out of the Twentieth Century.

---Richland, 1998
- William Witherup

 


 

RICHLAND DOCK, 2006

The Columbia rolls on
through the desert,
unimpressed and unattached---
a woman who doesn't need boys
to dance, a king's parade
of golden carriages,
an endless line of warriors ants.
The river speaks French
in a land of inferior grammar.

The river is blue in a field of brown,
green in a field of grey,
black in a field of bronze.
The river shuns the desert.
It holds its tongue.
It saves itself for the ocean.
The river is fast, undammed,
Rapunzel's hair let down
and won't allow this
shrub-steppe plain to climb it.
The river won't lend itself
to grow a tree. Look---
sagebrush flush with its banks.
No meeting, no kiss, no marriage.
Look at the tumbleweeds.
The river bathes in its glory,
the desert eats dust. The river
belongs to somewhere else.
The mighty river passes, not touching.
But not untouched.

- Kathleen Flenniken
Southern Poetry Review, 45:1

This poem is included in the collection, Plume, 

University of Washington Press, 2012

 


 

Down Wind, Down River

For Frederick Wayne Nelson, down river, who was in the bio-path of the Green Run, 1949

Oh say can you breathe
By the dawn's early wind
What so proudly we made
At Hanford Engineering Works:
Iodine-131, plutonium, ruthenium.

At the dawn's early light
Irradiated meadowlarks
Filled a young boy's heart
With isotopes of beauty.
Particle and wave shimmered
Over the river stones.

What so proudly we hailed.
Looking for arrowheads
After my morning paper route,
By the hot Columbia;
Bike sparkling with flakes
Of mica not mica.

"Roll on Columbia" Woody.
Salmon smolt stunned
As they hit the outflow plumes.
As twilight's last gleaming
I-131 sifting on sage and thistle.
On sweet, newly-cut alfalfa.

Plutonium in the hog swill,
Ruthenium in the jackrabbit's eye.
The pure products of America go crazy.
By the dawn's early light
Hiroshima flickers white-hot,
Nagasaki fuses with the sun.

"Roll on Columbia" Woody.
Salmon smolt stunned
As they hit the outflow plumes.
As twilight's last gleaming
I-131 sifting on sage and thistle.
On sweet, newly-cut alfalfa.

Plutonium in the hog swill,
Ruthenium in the jackrabbit's eye.
The pure products of America go crazy.
By the dawn's early light
Hiroshima flickers white-hot,
Nagasaki fuses with the sun.

Particle and wave,
What physicists proudly hailed,
Who used murderous intellect
To invent deadly winds; military
And scientific elite gassing their own
Workers, soldiers, and children.

Down river, down wind;
I-131, plutonium, ruthenium.

---Seattle, 1996
- William Witherup

 


 

The Wind's Sail

In the new world
combustion is a secret
set to burst from its radioactive shell,

its afterlife, cloud billowing
into the wind's sail
slips to the ground as if

tempting who will follow
who will embrace invention
all the way to the ends of the earth?

Along the desert, in the crescent formed
where the hills lay flush to sea level
and river bed, cooling towers

notch the skyline, the land
stained with wild flowers and sagebrush.
Down river a camp fire blossoms

orange into twilight,
the smoke lingers
past nightfall, past the embers' quenching.

- Nancy Dickeman

 


 

After Odysseus Elytis

I turned death toward me like a gigantic sunflower

I turned death toward me like a gigantic uranium cake.
It was so blindingly yellow I wanted to bury my face in it.
I wanted to eat death; to gorge on Hiroshima; chew Nagasaki
And suck dry death's marrow bones.

My countrymen and women love death
But are afraid to look at its dark, bright mirror,
Or speak its name :so they send drones
To make hot love to death.

Death, I take it personally, all the murdering,
The blind and broken camels, the weeping mothers.
I am putting on my late father's hard hat
And safety glasses- and calling you to account.

- William Witherup, April 20, 2009

 


 

BEDROOM COMMUNITY

We were all bedded down 
in our nightcaps, curtains drawn

as swamp coolers and sprinklers 
hissed every brown summer hour, or in winter

sagebrush hardened in the cold. It was still dark 
as our fathers rose, dressed, and boarded

blue buses that pulled away, and men 
in milk trucks came collecting bottled urine

from our doorsteps. Beyond the shelter belt 
of Russian olive trees, cargo trains shuffled past

at 8:00 and 8:00, and the wide 
Columbia rolled by, silent with walleye

and steelhead. We pulled up our covers
while our overburdened fathers

dragged home to fix a drink,
and some of them grew sick—

Carolyn, your father’s marrow
testified. Whistles from the train,

the buses came, our fathers left. 
Oh Carolyn—while the rest of us slept.

 

Kathleen Flenniken

This poem is included in the collection, Plume, 
(University of Washington Press, 2012.)