The Oak Ridge girl gathers fossils in her fingers,
trilobytes and bits of coral twirling in the stone.
She learns lessons in mascara from her neighbors,
teenage girls in cutoffs who frizz their bangs and sneak beer
out of their mother’s fridges. She’s dimly aware
of men in black suits who haunt her house, asking questions
on the sidelines, of the safe in the closet that must never be opened.
She knows her father wears a badge to measure his daily
radioactive exposure. On the basement bar sits a Geiger counter.
Her father loves to garden, but under his fingers the roses wither in the sun
and the red clay doesn’t support his favorites. Her mother has better
luck with the locals: daffodils, dogwood, spirea and azalea.
The fruit trees grow whether or not they’re tended. The tiny wooden pears
never make it to adulthood. The girl throws them idly at her brothers
in the yard. Like her, they grow stunted in soil soaked in moody rain
carrying cesium, lead, strontium: the fruits of her father’s lab.
Photo by Boris Mann on Flickr