Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Little Flashes

Coming back from Canada, we were stopped
by apologetic border guards. It seemed
the scintillation counter had gone off. Little flashes
of radiation, could we explain? Sure,
my husband said, pointing to the scar
then new and red, stretching from ear to ear.
Thyroid cancer. Iodine 131. They sighed,
shuffled paper, waved us on.

I'd waited outside the double steel doors
while they tweezed away malignant flesh
that colonized two parathyroids, embraced his esophagus,
twined his vocal cords, left little flashes of black on his lungs.
They sent I-131 molecules, atomic bloodhounds
racing through his bloodstream, baying
on the trail of aberrant cells. They talked all round the cause--
epidemiological anomalies, unusual clusters of cancer--
the cause, same as the cure: I-131.

Hanford's Green Run: intentional release,
thousands of curies. Radioactive iodine plumed on the west wind,
little flashes of lightning striking every living cell
in every town. My husband calls himself a downwinder.
Downstreamers, we call ourselves in Portland,
joking about two-headed salmon.

I ponder the genetics of cancer
and the mutation that makes salmon into trout.
Smolt sliding under bridges,
little flashes of silver, misshapen, bloated,
cancer cells riding a river of blood. Cutthroat trout,
their necks naked and bloody as my husband's was
when they cut the cancer out.
I wake in the dark
and touch his throat.

Available! High-Voltage Lines, Knocking from Inside

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