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Uranium


ISSUE:  Summer 1988

Red-faced and sweating in autumn
heat, Grandpa and his khaki friend
from town unloaded picks and hammers
off the truck, and took out a case
with dials that seemed a radio
or recording machine with spiral
cord and microphone and needles.
All afternoon they circled fields
and pasture gullies, climbed the ledge
above the road, knocked on spoil of
the old zircon digs, chipped at
the cliff face, and shoveled mud from
the branch bed. Each time they found
a specimen they put the mike
to its gritty form and listened,
and checked the needles’ sway. The crops
were in and Grandpa looked for a new
harvest in the soil. I watched them
lug the equipment and armloads
of rocks like apples to the truck,
and knew the Russians might blow us
up any day, they said, and what
they looked for bombs were made of. At
the barn they let me listen to
the counter’s faint static. And while
the old men talked of wealth and sure
Armageddon and the Bible’s
plans for our annihilation
I heard the white chatter of rock,
a noise that seemed to go back in
time inside the bright machine, and
inside the hammered flakes in hand,
to the crackle of creation’s
distant fires still whispering in us.

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