Poetry: Reliving the Nuclear Nightmare

Poetry: Reliving the Nuclear Nightmare

by Karen Ethelsdattar

March 29, 2011

With the now-ongoing nuclear disaster in Japan, I was shaken all over again. After the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in the Pennsylvania in 1979 during the presidency of Jimmy Carter, I was moved to write a poem about it.

Many of the details were related to me by my-then lover, Stephen, who learned them from his friend, John, a sculptor and dairy farmer in Pennsylvania. Now with the terrible news from Japan, there still exists the possibility that a tragedy of these proportions could happen here. We have lived with this nightmare and attendant guilt and fear, conscious and unconscious, ever since Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Three Mile Island
Middletown, Pennsylvania
Nuclear Accident

by Karen Ethelsdattar

I walk in Manhattan
where someone has stenciled NUCLEAR TARGET
on the sidewalk in green,
where someone has drawn the outline of a body
in white on the pavement,
& splashed red paint like blood inside it

Another woman
is walking in Middletown,
afraid to look above the tree-tops
as though she would see the radiation
hovering above her,
her mind rejecting the knowing
that it has already descended, & is descending
& will descend
She breathes it even as she looks away from the sky.
It is in the air; it is in the soil;
it is in her body & the body of her husband & the child
who is holding her hand.

At the corner grocery she hears on the radio
that radiation is now at a safe level: only 3 rems.
A man stands beside her
with a Geiger counter.
It registers 60,
20 times what it says in the news.
She wants to believe what she hears
on the radio.
She wants not to know.
She wants to believe her 4 year old daughter

& her daughter’s daughters
her sons & her daughters
have not been harmed.

Her husband is at the dairy farm
that’s been in the family for generations.
The cows are now radioactive,

The cows & their fodder,
The cows & their milk.
It is in the soil
& the air he breathes
at his father’s farm
his home
& the milk they sell
to make their living.

The President of the United States,
who believes in nuclear weapons,
who has authorized the building of a bomb
that will kill people
but leave buildings standing
has flown to Harrisburg.
He speaks on the street in Middletown
3 blocks away.

The voice of the Great White Father
soothing troubled minds
telling children what they want to hear,
using the power of his office
to lie.

The woman can see the President
from her window
Who can see the unborn generations?

These things happen
we are told
as though nuclear power
were an Act of God
& I think
how Hiroshima happened
how I have seen the outlines
of bodies burnt into the pavement.

& I walk in Manhattan
where someone has stenciled NUCLEAR TARGET
on the sidewalk in green,
where someone has drawn the outline of a body
in white on the pavement,
& splashed red paint like blood inside it.

& I imagine only the buildings standing.

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Karen Ethelsdattar is a poet, liturgist, ritual maker and explorer of world spiritual traditions, who currently lives in Union City, NJ. She is the author of three volumes of poetry: Earthwalking & Other Poems, Thou Art a Woman, and Steam Rising Up from the Soul, as well as several chapbooks .Many of her individual poems appear in a number of publications and anthologies. Her poem on Three Mile Island initially appeared in International Quarterly, Vol.II, No.2, 1995.

Also see “Nuclear Revival? Lessons for Women from the Three Mile Island Accident” by Karen Charman in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

See The Poet’s Eye” featuring Denise Bergman, Marge Piercy, Frances Payne Adler, curated by Poetry Co-Editor Judith Arcana, in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.


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