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American Life in Poetry: Chernobyl year?

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American Life in Poetry: Chernobyl year?
Morris Minnesota 607 Pacific Avenue 56267

By Ted Kooser

When I was a little boy, the fear of polio hung over my summers, keeping me away from the swimming pool. Atomic energy was then in its infancy. It had defeated Japan and seemed to be America's friend. Jehanne Dubrow, who lives and teaches in Maryland, is much younger than I, and she grew up under the fearsome cloud of what atomic energy was to become.

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Chernobyl Year?

We dreamed of glowing children,

their throats alive and cancerous,

their eyes like lightning in the dark.

We were uneasy in our skins,

sixth grade, a year for blowing up,

for learning that nothing contains

that heat which comes from growing,

the way our parents seemed at once

both tall as cooling towers and crushed

beneath the pressure of small things--

family dinners, the evening news,

the dead voice of the dial tone.

Even the ground was ticking.

The parts that grew grew poison.

Whatever we ate became a stone.

Whatever we said was love became

plutonium, became a spark

of panic in the buried world.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2010 by Jehanne Dubrow, whose most recent book of poems is Stateside, Northwestern Univ. Press, 2010. Poem reprinted from West Branch, No. 66, 2010, by permission of Jehanne Dubrow and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2009 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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