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July 11, 2013

photo_credit_alexander_flenniken.jpg

Photo: Poet Kathleen Flenniken at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation
Poet Kathleen Flenniken at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation
Credit
Alexander Flenniken

Poetry From The Atomic City

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Poet Kathleen Flenniken grew up near the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in eastern Washington state. At the height of the Cold War, people in her town believed they were helping protect America - and that they were safe, too.

But Flenniken says that when a family friend who worked at the site died from radiation exposure, she realized she had to reexamine her past. She tells host Dick Gordon her book of poetry "Plume" is an attempt to make sense of the pride and betrayal she feels when it comes to her childhood in the center of the atomic age.

Childhood and death converge in the following poem, Flow Chart, about a friend's father dying of radiation exposure from the nuclear plant.


Flow Chart

 


 

I

 

when Carolyn’s father died

I drew a box around his death

 

and an arrow referencing

my America my

 

protective box

erected in the mind

 

this is how he died

chromosomal mutation

boiling his blood and marrow

exposure to radiation

an arrow     a flush of arrows

 

and this was a circle of lamplight

and Carolyn’s grown voice on the phone

 

and the arrow circling back

to the box containing his death

 

containing a box

containing a box

 

 

 

II

 

Carolyn dumps out on her dining table

30 years of exposure documents

 

one man’s official lifetime dose

painstakingly recorded

 

pencil dosimeter readings

whole-body counts in cramped cursive

 

radiation reported in units

that keep changing

 

we study a yellowing questionnaire

with boxes her father filled in

 

how many fish do you catch and eat each week?

where?  what kind? do you hunt local game? local fowl?

 

yes    yes    too many    my god

pointing trigger fingers at our heads

 

charades for shoot me now

 

 

III

 

one box contains my childhood

 

the other contains his death

 

if one is true

how can the other be true?

 

I think at first I must choose

a box to believe in

 

but I’m all American

 

and lightning quick with the shell game

 

 

Music

"Radar" by Hauschka (Michael Mayer Remix); "Cube" by Hauschka

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