At the Site of the Underground Missile Silo

         — Lincoln, Montana, for Steve Christenson

Remember how the day ended
in a flash of bright blood?
Just the corny kind of sunset
bad poets adore, and good ones like you.
We left the highway,
drove the quarter mile
red dirt road, stood
in the glare of floodlights
and a tall white totem we guessed
was the monster's guidance system.
The ground hummed.
Something down there snored.
Something down here hissed.
Inside the ring of chain-link
and razor wire shone the hinged lid,
waiting for the day it will fly off
to give terrible birth.
They've buried them everywhere,
you said, all through the heart of the state.
A great white sign glared:
Dead of typhoid from infected blankets,
ghosts of Sioux children
danced in one gray cloud.

Night brought a delirium of stars.
We wandered away from the glare, the hum.
You named the constellations:
Andromeda, lonely maiden,
chained forever to her ledge in heaven;
Leo, sphinx-like, gazing
at the black riddle of nowhere;
and the Spiral Nebula, twin of our Milky Way,
smudge of light in the attic of space.

It might be lovely, you said,
like all sunsets combined,
a vast morning glory
opening over a city's markets, beggars and birds.
It might be the pure light of knowing
the dying see finally.

Remember JFK?
Missiles in Cuba?
Remember crawling obediently under our desks
hands over our necks?
Mrs. Blandish was blunt:
So that flying glass
won't sever your spinal cord.
Mrs. Blandish, piped one 3rd grader,
what does sever mean?

Steve, all our lives,
the earth has been enemy soil.
Now we've become our fathers,
those distant men who read the news
but never talked about it.
What do you say to Kerri?
Yes, life could end?
My oldest son, Devin, says he thinks
he understands.
He plans to build a laser
to make all bombs disappear,
including the laser.
The other night, Ned, his younger brother,
cried out Mama! in his sleep,
blubbered a tale of panic,
of running a red road in the sky.
Said it turned black, to quicksand.
A monster pulled him under,
pulled his brother and Mama and me under.
It cracked all our bones.
I hold him, whisper It's okay,
Daddy's here, and suddenly I recall
Black Elk's vision of the good red road
his people never found,
and our red road going dark toward the glare,
the hum I can still feel on my neck.

Steve, it's taken me years
of staring at my face
in the window at late hours to learn
that poetry can't teach us to be decent,
can't free us of the slaves we make
of ourselves. A poem is nothing
but the heart's logbook,
a record of our private calms and storms.

Tonight, above my neighbor's sleeping house,
hangs Jupiter, my jewel,
first pointed out to me by you
above that Montana prairie,
a night wild with the smell of sage,
the silo floodlight an unnatural star
behind us.

Remember when earth meant home, life-giver?
Let's make a new language, you and me.
Let's learn again the old words,
the old ways of naming before the world
went nuts and brilliant men discovered
how we might all be cremated at once.
Here are words I love: moss, agate, heron,
silver, peach, madrona, curve ball
and Linda,
word for the woman I love.
And I love those stars you named, changeless
as hope, knitting together past and future,
same points of icy fire our ancient parents
beheld in wonder in Africa by a stream.

Picture an old woman in some far city
we'll never see. She's tired, her feet hurt,
she loves her one geranium on the sill.
Let her stand for every soul in that city,
city like my Seattle or your Boston,
city of parks, ice cream, sorrow.
Imagine that missile in the foothills roaring.
Imagine the silent brilliant flash,
the woman's face at the window, the geranium,
her last look of knowing.
Imagine reciting the foreign name
of every soul in that city, saying Brother,
goodbye. Sister, I prayed it wouldn't be you.

Ed Harkness | Mudlark No. 13
Contents | Rifles