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Brooks Haxton


The year before Chernobyl I spent evenings
abstracting translations of reports
by engineers on Soviet nuclear-power plants.
Many times I typed the word molybdenum,
uncertain how it might be said.

Three dollars an item, eight items an hour,
faking the Authoritative Version,
I felt queasy, that a phrase deleted
might make dangerous misinformation
of the nonsense in my head.

This was the year of our first baby, when I worked
four jobs, and wrote before dawn every day
devotions on the hours and pastiches
of Lao-tzu, the sense of the originals
as vague to me as anything in the reports.

That next year, in a magazine, I saw
the radiation babies, stillborn, and in pain,
and yellowish eruptions on the forearm
of a young man poisoned cleaning up.
He died, the caption said, in seven months.

And still, I want to make my part make sense,
the way men stay at work to keep their jobs:
one wrings plutonium into a bucket
with his bare hands; and another
writes about it for no one to read.

                                       -from Nakedness, Death, and the Number Zero