|Jul/Aug 2012 Poetry|
My Grandfather, At Work Building Indian Point (the local nuclear power plant)
There's an old picture of him—reds gone orange—
on a tractor, containment dome half-built
behind his flannel-shirt shoulders. I remember
the huge hole, the stones saved for my rock collection,
passed to me from the rough hands of his coworkers:
granite, mica to flake with a finger, smokey quartz.
Fifth grade. An assembly in the auditorium, the scent
of floor wax and scorched celluloid. The Friendly Atom
on the movie screen, electrons zipping in circles like
The Steeplechase ride at Playland. A deep-voiced
announcer calm and wise as Moses said exactly when
The World's Nations were about to run out of oil,
this invisible miracle would spark up and save
the day. How kind of God to plan so well! I thought.
The Cyclotron was right up Route 9 at Columbia Labs.
I'd seen it. And my very own grandfather was building
Indian Point so I could watch Dick Van Dyke on TV.
Even the Hudson River was conveniently placed: I knew
they needed water for The Plant. So why, after school,
did I walk behind the train station all alone and
collect stones covered in tar? They were nameless,
of course, and hot from sitting in the afternoon sun.
I threw each one into the river as hard as I could
until my hands were empty, until my right arm ached.
Some fool on his back deck points a cellphone
as if it were a crucifix at the sullen funnel, as if it
could ward off the distant vampire whose breath is
already deafening. How green is his wet grass and
how lovely under its sick black sky! The voice offscreen
is always a woman's: Come in the house! Come in!
Shit, he whispers. And the video ends with a jerk.
We know he survives because it's posted on Youtube.
You are watching it and others from the same storm
now that we know everyone in your home town is also
alive. A sheet of stainless steel landed in your cousin's
yard. Shit is falling from the sky, he said on the phone,
but then it was over. In the clement Northeastern twilight,
luminous cardinals fly from our bird feeder to the cedar
outside the kitchen: chit, chit, chit. Night gathering itself
is an old woman knitting. You close your silver laptop.