You thought I was weird? My dad played with uranium as a child. Here is a poem.

Radiance

I have seen photographs
describing a fragment
of the way they were then,
my uncle and father,
Danny and John.
The doctor of not-yet,
the future minister,
dressed country presentable,
more fifties than sixties,
with scrimped hair cut high and tight,
spiked by their grandfather
who couldn’t stand a handbreadth of locks
on the head of a boy.
It was their first year in Florida

inhabiting a home I came to know well,
when I lived there, half gray-blue wood,
half brick and painted cinderblock;
that wide, sprawling yard of hibiscus,
mertyl, orange trees- still replete
with elephant ear that Popie had not vanquished-
ferns, the square rose garden in the corner
their father never gave up on,
to spite the environment, that light sandy soil
so different from mountains
where if the land was sweet, where
you’d drop a flower and a shrub would flourish,
fed by unseen source.

The boys were curious, a little too daring.
I have no idea where they found
the magazine which sold Army surplus.
I’ve no idea where they came up with the cash,
but somehow or other they scrimped it together,
along with stamped envelope, an address card
messily filled in by dyslexic hands.

I could not have stood the waiting they endured,
all those weeks of processing. Their little card
filtering through the guts
of some vast company,
denuded of its sweat stained,
green florals. Knowing my father’s
life-long impatience he probably hounded
the postman to ruinous depression ,
wondering out loud, when the poor man
showed his overheated adult face,
if the package had been missed.

Eventually it came round,
as all things do,
wrapped in brown paper,
addressed by hand.
Danny was older, his privilege to open,
sliding his knife blade scalpel-like through twine,
revealing a small round can,
the kind home-movie film came in,
sealed off tight.

John was the one to uncover the sacrament,
And what shone there alone in the bottom,
naturally inspired
religious awe and adoration.
It lit up his face like a Mosaic veil
and made brother Danny
fall back as though stricken.
John sucked in his breath.

A small disk of incredible radiation,
a glowing light that could never be
extinguished or hidden,
that the boys, or anyone,
could never make dwindle
or in any way diminish.
Light without heat, that anyway
burned them.
a host of slow poison to hold on the palm.

They stood alone together,
made isolate by silence,
Hands of the same size and substance
clasped, impressed with sharp nails
that could belong to either of them.

They never really played with it.
Popie came in from his job
reclaiming the neglected, placing the broken,
the brain damaged, deranged
in jobs that they could handle,
according to capacity.
He saw the light, and knew what it was.

He did not yell, or strike them.
He did not even cover it with can-lid.
He knelt down,
hands that struggled at nurturing
settling down on twin curvatures of spine.
He laid out the danger
there on the table, home to toxic feast
and familial rite of pleasure at meals.

When he had finished
describing his horror
my father reached out,
white cheeked, trembling,
his eyelids glistening,
raw and bright.
He closed the lid tight.

There was already treasure
in that yard.
They added worth
by burying this surfeit.
The boys dug down
deep to plant this seed,
shovels flying
until they hit the water table.

They set it down,
like Hebrew priests
willfully forgetting
the location of the Ark,
willfully forgetting that power
such as this
has a way of seeping out.

The light, Springish,
like the sun seen through leaves,
never went out.
It is glowing still, somewhere,
waiting to be found.
Eventually, when I lived there,
I would seek it out.

In the places I looked I found;
a roundel of imported flint,
a similar chunk of rose quartz,
the soggy remains of Popie’s first garden,
the spilled ancient slag
of a conquistador foundry,
the skull of a large dog,
a horse tooth,
five ring-neck serpents, still alive,
and the rusted husk
of a Volkswagen side mirror.

I am still looking,
still scouring the depths
for that dangerous light,
which I have never seen,
though I have felt its intimations.
I have faith I shall do,
when the time is right.
In the meantime I will pray
for the recovery of light.

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About Bethany W Pope

Bethany W Pope was named by the Huffington Post as ‘one of the five Expat poets to watch in 2016’. Nicholas Lezard, writing for The Guardian, described her latest collection as 'poetry as salvation'.....'This harrowing collection drawn from a youth spent in an orphanage delights in language as a place of private escape.' Bethany has won many literary awards and published several collections of poetry. Her first novel, Masque, was published by Seren in 2016. Her second novel, Ordinary Lives: The Ballad of John and Mary, was published in 2018. Follow her on Twitter @BethanyWPope

Posted on February 12, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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