Karen Silkwood

This came from a workshop I took part in inspired by “underdogs” and people who might epitomise the “David v. Goliath” experience. I wasn’t fully done with it on the day, and finished it tonight and I’ve just sent it on for publication in our collection on the theme.

Karen Silkwood (Wikipedia page) was a technician at a nuclear power plant who was outspoken about health and safety standards where she worked and was heavily involved in union activity and activism. She was found to have plutonium contamination on her person and in her home and died in unclear circumstances in a car crash, when she was on her way to meet a journalist.

Karen Silkwood
by Peter Buckley

“Thinkin’ about what a friend had said,
I was hoping it was a lie”

– Neil Young, After The Gold Rush (1970)

 

I have a weapons-grade rage that started with suspicion.
I waited as time, and time again,
delivered confirmation,
believing at almost every turn
the essential Good in people
which we should fix when it disappoints,
like a routine inspection.

The relative Good of nuclear power,
when it puts food on the table,
a split apple, cheese on Rye bread.

The by-product is isolated alone and is,
like I am, safe as a collision.

I’m still driving off of
the straightest forever, road.

We met in Union,
we were tired but sensed blood, and
I carried a document
from the café where we planned.
You held an expression for a full two minutes
I could’ve kept as an alarm.

In the last steps to my car, mushroom-cloud where
the country radio – wouldn’t turn on –
was melancholy with betrayal and a noted Pastor
spoke about soluble plutonium, and
Jesus, if accepted, is the reactor shielding
who will stand taller than your playground bully,
elected or in place of power.

I dreamt of removing shelves from my refrigerator,
a hat that cast a shadow and had a grimace and a beard,
the man who had all his reasons for doing what he did,
weed-smoke and the static ‘lectricity that came off in my hand like a handle,
Sievert dosages ladled like a stew of Chernobyl,

offered by the glowing sun
like rainwater from a shower head.

And there were patterns, planned accidents,
like thick, red-green, woven strings behind my eyes;
Two baseball-white things knocked out of the park
got old and started shutting
then I nodded as if agreeing,
irresistibly towards the sedation’s pull,
up there and further away toward it,
a Better America,
with a view of
Longview, Texas.

I dosed in drowsiness
remembering you had a punchline,
and the Martin Luther Kings or JFKs,
most of all my family
who I love and who it tears me up to think of,
would fight my corner, on a round Earth
when the soil was new
and made for our children.

You best be as sad as sorry,
sorry, and raging, and
I hope you do your bit,
that’s all.

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