poemoftheweek poemoftheweek.com poemoftheweek.org poem of the week
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
BIO: Brooks Haxton has published five collections of poems with Alfred A. Knopf: Dominion, Traveling Company, The Sun at Night, Nakedness, Death, and the Number Zero, and Uproar. His two book-length narrative poems are The Lay of Eleanor and Irene and Dead Reckoning. As a translator, he has published two collections from the ancient Greek, Fragments: The Collected Wisdom of Heraclitus and Dances for Flute and Thunder, and a bicentennial selection of poems by Victor Hugo, all three from Viking Penguin. His poems have appeared in the Paris Review, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, and elsewhere. He has been awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Washington D.C. Council for the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, and the Ingram Merrill Foundation.