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by Brooks Haxton

Hear Brooks Haxton read this poem (in RealAudio):

RA 28.8, RA 14.4

(For help, see a note about the audio.)

Also by Brooks Haxton:
From the Greek (1998)
Sanskrit by First Snowfall (1997)
The Body of My Brother Osiris Is in the Mustard Seed (1994)

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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.

Brooks Haxton teaches the writing of poetry at Syracuse University and Warren Wilson College. He is the author of Dead Reckoning (1989) and The Sun at Night, published this spring.

Copyright © 1995 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; July 1995; Molybdenum; Volume 276, No. 1; page 44.

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