AND THE RAIN IT RAINETH
When Mt.St. Helens went up it was–
well, it was just a mess. Waves of mud
scoured the Toutle River until it looked
like a sewer. Thousands of acres of timber
were stripped and leveled by the blast
like cordwood, like matchsticks. Spirit Lake
was relocated and Harry Truman and some others
just flat out disappeared. The mountain ripped itself
wide open, and its once graceful and rising line
scrunched into a gaping, steaming wound. And over it all
the ash cloud swarmed and pillared and billowed up until
the upper winds caught it and carried it off
to the east. Then the ash rained down for days,
blotting out the sun, sifting through the cracks and jams,
choking carburetors. You could hardly get rid of it
but had to shovel it off the roof, scrape it off the grass,
wash it on down the street, a kind of grey slime
that left a film everywhere. What a mess.
We thought we’d never see the end of it.
You can’t tell now, though, except around the mountain,
and the ash did a good job of fertilizing
the vegetables and the flowers.
In Chernobyl the roof of a building is gone.
In its depths the carbon burns and burns
but little else is known. There are reports
of workers playing soccer nearby. There are
reports. There are satellite photographs. There
isn’t much to see. It is not like Hiroshima.
Not like Bhopal. And one is thankful. But
the progeny of Number Four is invisible, unfelt.
It rises on clear winds bound ’round the world.
The reporters are reassuring. It happened
in another country and besides . . .
After the news, after dinner we go out
and water our lawns and watch the sky
as the sun drops. It seems the same.
Another day it is raining because it is still spring.
From my window I watch the iris budding in the yard
as the clouds cover the mountain, and the world
is smaller, closed in. Even the news seems to come
from another country. It would be easy to forget.
It was said before but this time it is true–
the world is changed, changed utterly.
We are all downwind from Chernobyl.
(previously published in “80 on the 80’s: A Decade’s History in Verse,” edited by Robert McGovern and Joan Baranow, The Ashland Poetry Press, Ashland, Ohio, 1990)