The child affixes one of her little pictures to my refrigerator.
She asks, Can you detect the radiation?
There is a house, one tree, and grass in dark slashes. A sun
shining. Beneath, in her child letters, she has written Chernobyl.
At kindergarten they must be having nuclear energy week.
One could look at the picture and say everything is in order.
No, I say, I cannot see the radiation.
The radiation poison, she says, sits
inside the apple and the apple looks pretty. Then she singsongs,
Bury the apple and bury the shovel that buried the apple
and put the apple-burier person in a closet forever.
We are both thinking Then bury the burier.
Both thinking of her picture with no people.
The poison sits inside the people and the people
still look pretty, she says. Still, she says, sweetly, Away with them.
The child is not a flincher, which is why I love to tell her stories:
Of the poisonous man who tumbled into the cold sea
and turned the sea poignant.
His bones glowed in the cold deep like dying coral.
His ribcage was a cave for small, lost fish.
Flecks of his glowing skin joined with green algae
on the sea surface, where, on a boat, his widow choked
as she looked down the sun shaft for her husband’s greening body.
What is sunlight through seawater most like
but the strange green fire
that burnt the man?
—Who had worked atop a steel hill until a whale—
a great green whale—bumped into the continental shelf
and the steel hill cracked and its poison leaked out.
And the man began to melt…
What I am jealous of in the child, what I really detest in her
is how she nods
with kindergarten grace and finality. Primly, into her pinafore,
she tucks what I’ve told of the story.
On the refrigerator her picture looks so pretty.
There is no end to the green or pollen or the feeling of the bees coming.
Or of a hill and sky of poison.
On fire, the man working on the reactor must have looked wavy—
like a man trying to ride a humpback through the fast green sea.
Her picture on the refrigerator looks so pretty.
When I wake her from her nap I will ask
if the dark green slashes are meant to be
radiance, not plain grass.