Michael McLane (Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand)
We walk the death mile
of farmland, a sea of tamed green
alfalfa, potatoes, apple orchards
and hay. The reluctant voice,
of Hanford Reach, Tom Baile, points
in every cardinal direction, delineates
the roll of residents, in the spectrum
of maladies. It is a liturgy
he knows by heart.
We are unable to see as far as he
does, be it space or time. Visibility
is reduced to perhaps a quarter
mile, smoke pours across the Reach,
spreads, intermingling with pine
and scrub and redwood vapours—
from Canada to the north; Idaho,
California and Oregon, to the south.
Like the smoke, the releases
from the Hanford Works cared
nothing for roads, for direction,
for military-industrial order.
As with any planting, the ground
accepts what you give: strontium
in the milk, cesium in the potatoes,
radioactive iodine in every organ,
the tiniest flecks of plutonium lighting
each farmer from the inside. A primitive
photography, the briefest of shadows
in an elemental life.
When the wind changes direction, Tom
is silent. It carries his fragmented sentence
off towards the invisible Columbia Gorge.
One of the constants of all
such land is one of the more
banal, windsocks dotting the landscape
pathetic maypoles on still days,
whiplashed couriers on the windy ones.
Michael McLane is an editor with Sugar House Review, saltfront, and Dark Mountain. He is the author of the chapbook Trace Elements and his chapbook Fume was the winner of the 2021 Midwest Chapbook Contest and will be published in 2022 by The Laurel Review. His work has appeared in numerous journals, including Western Humanities Review, Colorado Review, Dark Mountain, High Country News, Denver Quarterly, and Interim.