Spring, 1986, Nuclear Accident, Kiev, the Ukraine
In the world we’ve made
a cloud approaches Wyoming,
a radioactive cloud born in a fire,
a graphite fire in a nuclear power plant
gone wrong. The fire will not stop.
Many have said that the power
from sundered atoms is a Pandora’s box.
In one story Jupiter sends Pandora
to Prometheus and Epimetheus as punishment
for stealing fire. Pandora was made in Heaven.
Every God has given something to make her perfect.
And oh, she seems so perfect.
Epimetheus gladly accepts her though Prometheus
cautions, “Beware gifts from Jupiter.”
The rest of the story you know.
Pandora opens a box from which flies
all manner of evil — gout, rheumatism and colic
for the flesh; envy, spite and revenge for the spirit.
Pandora means to close the box but all has flown,
all, that is, except hope which lies
at the bottom of the box, hope,
perhaps crushed and unconscious from the weight
of all those evils, hope is all that is left.
Usually it has proven to be enough.
But about this radioactive cloud.
For three days it has been raining.
In Oregon people are advised not to drink rainwater.
And in Washington and Idaho. Here in Buffalo, Wyoming,
our town water comes from Clear Creek flowing
down out of the Bighorn Mountains
and through the center of town, beside the Busy Bee Cafe,
under the bridge on Main Street. The rain falls,
the water flows. All the water that can
makes its way to the creek out of which we drink.
I sigh and with that sigh I am a child
standing face up in a heavy rain, southern
Arizona, the dark sky, the water tumbling
from the foreign clouds and sluicing along
a gutterless street. My eyes are closed
so I feel the drops pelt my eyelids.
My mouth is open as wide as I can open it,
tongue hanging out. The rain pounds
on my tongue but does not hurt.
I love this feeling and as my mouth fills
I swallow — cool water on what, thirty minutes before,
was another hot day. I let my arms rise
away from my sides and I begin to turn,
to spin in place like the blades of a propeller,
or those seeds with wings that come down from the trees
like eggbeaters upside down, or a ballet dancer
I have never seen. The water flies off
the ends of my fingers as it continues
to strike my tongue. Around and around
until I am so dizzy I fall and lie on my back,
eyes still closed, mouth still open. My mother
comes out in the yard to watch the rain.
She speaks to me and I look at her.
She smiles. Then she lies down next to me.
Side by side on our backs we both close our eyes,
open our mouths and drink the rain
that goes on falling.
At my sister’s in Tucson,
it’s a warm night. We eat dinner in the yard.
I can see the grass growing.
It’s noisy. Every bird and bug
in the city is clacking and buzzing.
How small the yard is and how close the house
next door. House after house. Amazing
that people can live all packed together.
Behind me there’s a whoosh like air rushing
to fill an empty space. An orange stream
shoots up then stops. It forms a cap and begins
to spread, opens like a flower. The bomb
we have all pronounced with a capital B.
We are calm — set down our dinners and wait —
then we are nervous, run in circles
in the tiny yard. Even blinded we do not collide
and laugh out loud at this tiny miracle.
It is the distance at which all that is left
of people is a shadow, pale gray on a shattered wall
or dark on the dusty earth. The end comes
when I say “No” and look up, the orange flower
spiralling toward me. I open my mouth and swallow
and we go on with our dinner. The moon rises
and here in the desert even its light seems warm.
I wake, alone in my bed, the desert far away.
I can hear the two foghorns of our coastal town
cross in the moist night, the weird harmony.
I may have this dream again. I work at breathing.
In dream do not flee adversity. When
you face it only good can come. Dreaming
is not waking, yet the dream is also the life.
I see I have saved the world and saved myself.
How many have done it before.
I fall back to sleep, unable to say your name,
you who will save us next.