Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Year's Eve 2017: Eldorado, New Mexico

This morning Michaela and I were in Eldorado, a small town just south of Santa Fe. Although only a twenty-minute drive from where we live, Eldorado seems to always have a slightly different weather pattern. When its dry here, it's snowing there. When it's light here, it's dark there. Strange winds blow through Eldorado, winds we jokingly (and sometimes not so jokingly) call: "Bruja/Brujo winds." Witch wind…

 But that's not what I want to talk about…

From anywhere in town you get a shot of the Cerrillos Hills to the west. They look dusty and cragged, probably because black and gray shale is widely exposed across the hills. 

Standing in an empty parking lot this morning, studying them, I thought, because of how ancient they are - the sense that they have been keeping watch for so, so long

- how they could be related to something I sometimes feel inside my body when I am going through intense emotions (terror, joy, grief…from the death of a loved one, a life-threatening situation, love lost…) 

an eye that watches it all, extremely curious, thinking "oh, this is interesting…" 

I suppose I could put this down to detachment or dissociation from the emotion, but that doesn't really do the sensation justice - because while this "watching" is happening, I am still feeling the emotion burning through all my cells…

And so, the new year's eve poem:

Eldorado, New Mexico,
New Year's Eve Morning

Leaves scrape across an empty parking lot.

Purple, brown shades in the nearby brush. Faint tints of red.

A rabbit waits beneath the brush, imitating the dead.

Across the flats, silhouette of the Cerrillos hills, cragged
                      and dark with shale, ancestors
   of that part of us that keeps endless vigil; a curious eye,
                                                 through fire, grief, fear, loss…

The dead leaves move towards me.

Wind rustles the rabbit's fur, my hair.

Winter's colors deepen.


Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Winter Solstice 2017: The Under Realm

Winter is the time when everything returns to the earth, when the energy burrows deep into stone, pools in tree roots. Down in the cold realms of the dead, everything begins to transform, change. 

The shadows from the realm of the dead like to walk among us in winter. They slip into this world through the seams in stone, cracks in old boards, old snake holes. It is easier for them to blend in during the long nights when even shadows possess shadows. 

They like to feel the cold stone beneath their exposed bones - but they always leave deer and bobcat prints behind, to fool us (sometimes a bobcat is a bobcat; sometimes a bobcat is a spirit from another realm).

I like to think that the dead take on the roles and masks of the creatures and people who fill our dreams. They play whatever part suits them: a man in a Stellar's Jay headdress and wings, a pedestrian in a busy asylum corridor, a teacher monitoring an endless exam, a woolly rhino thundering across the winter desert, a car that has no brakes, a potted plant in a dusty office…

When I think of the winter solstice, I think we have entered a long dream. Dream and reality merge. Which is which? Are we sure we knew the difference before?

Winter Solstice: The Under Realm 

(a work in progress)

A rusted water tank on the side of a hill,
forgotten. Cold gathers beneath it.
                    I tap the side: emptiness taps back.


Cartilage of a guitarfish inside a cloud,
cloud inside the Stellar Jay's eye, Stellar Jay
     inside last night's dream: echoes
                                               of the coming dark.  


A woman slumps on a curb, counts her change,
     repeats the pattern of words in her head:
     conspicuous sedition, sorrowful mechanism,
     reason for the season, reason for the treason…

Someone has forgotten something,
                                                left something out.
She is making the connections that need to be made.


What is silence? The sound of iron, traveling
sun to sun, feeding off pale light.

What is stillness? How black branches weave
the songs of the dead into a red horizon.

What is time? The loneliness of the dead rabbit,
roadside, waiting to step into its own shadow.


Shadows settle on the stones,
       scattered among scrub juniper. They watch
a man with Stellar's Jay head and wings
           pick up a pebble, hold it to the sky.
They can see the fish cartilage folded inside.


Breath hangs in the air: water and salt.
Breath hangs in the air: earth and unwanted thoughts.
Breath hangs in the air: fire and a raven's feather, lost.
Breath hangs in the air, then dissolves.


Last light disappears into the water tank.
All shadows merge.

Light in the Dark.
Dark in the Light.

Have a Strange and Beautiful  

(Solstice blogs from the past, along with poems,
can be found by hitting the "Series" tab above)

Monday, December 18, 2017

Thinking about Li Po during the Geminid Meteor Shower

I live in a place where I can see the stars- there are no streetlight obstructions. It is the first time in my life I've been so lucky. Stepping out my door at night, I look up into the milky way, the star river. So, it was easy to stand on the stone wall right outside the door and watch the flashes and streaks of the geminid meteor shower last Thursday night.

Over the last few weeks, I've been re-reading the Selected Poems of Li Po   
(also known as Li Bai and Li Taibai), translated by David Hinton. I've had the book since it first came out in 1996. It is one of the few books, along with Hinton's translations of the selected poems of Tu Fu (Du Fu), that I have managed to hang onto in all my travels and moves. 

Li Po and Tu Fu are among the best  Chinese poets. They both lived during the High T'ang Dynasty period (712-760), a period that was marked, at the beginning, by a flourishing world of art; and ended in a rebellion (the An-Lushan rebellion) that plunged Chinese civilization into incalculable destruction, widespread famine, and death. The fall in census figures from a population of 53 million to 17 million after the rebellion's end, tells the tale of the incredible catastrophe.  

Li Po was a skilled swordsman, lived in a cave as a Taoist recluse, spent time in the emperor's court as a translator (being perpetually drunk and refusing to follow the usual protocols, he  gained the nickname "Banished Immortal" - one who has been banished from Heaven, or as Hinton puts it in his introduction to the selected poems: "an exiled spirit moving through this world with an unearthly ease and freedom from attachment."). 

During the rebellion, he was adviser to a prince who replaced the emperor for a brief period. The prince eventually lost the throne to his brother and Li Po was tried for treason and sentenced to death. He was granted clemency by the aid of a general he had once saved from court-martial, and was eventually exiled. He spent his last years wandering. 

The legend of his death says that he died, drunk, while trying to embrace the reflection of the moon on the Yangtze river. At least one third of his poems mention the moon. "In a universe animated by the interaction between yin (female) and yang (male) energies, the moon was literally yin visible." (Hinton, Introduction to the Selected Poems). 

Song of the Merchant

On heaven's wind, a sea traveler
wanders by boat through distances.

It's like a bird among the clouds:
once gone, gone without a trace.

(Li Po, trans. David Hinton)

I have always been drawn to the spontaneous aspect of Li Po's poetry. He was friends with the masters who developed "wild-grass" calligraphy, those who would get drunk and, at the right moment, plunge brush into ink and scrawl indecipherable characters across silk. It seems as if he created his poems in much the same way. With Li Po, act and poem merge. Another aspect that draws me in, is that everything is placed in the context of larger natural patterns - there is always "the wild" - stars, waterfalls, gibbons, the moon...

Thought in Night Quiet

Seeing moonlight here at my bed,
and thinking it's frost on the ground,

I look up, gaze at the mountain moon,
then back, dreaming of my old home.

(Li Po, trans. David Hinton) 

Because I am a creature of the 21st Century, my own experience of the wild, of natural patterns, extends to the why light flashes across the sky, and how the wildness of the natural world is also within us, our bodies, our nervous systems. Shooting star, thought-flash - same thing.

At Fang-Ch'eng Monastery, Discussing Ch'an with Yuan Tan-Ch'iu 

Alone, in the vast midst of boundless
dream, we begin to sense something:

wind and fire stir, come whorling
life into earth and water, giving us

this shape. Erasing dark confusion,
we penetrate to the essential points,

reach Nirvana-illumination, seeing
this body clearly, without any fears,

and waking beyond past and future,
we soon know the Buddha-mystery.

What luck to find a Ch'an recluse
offering emerald wine. We seem lost

together here - no different than
mountains and clouds. A clear wind

opens pure emptiness, bright moon
gazing on the laughter and easy talk,

blue-lotus roofs. Timeless longing
breaks free in a wandering glance.

(Li Po, trans. David Hinton)

The meteors flashed and I thought of Li Po, standing a little further off, among the trees in the dark, both of us staring up at the same stars...

Heaven & Earth:
Thinking of Li Po While Watching a Geminid Meteor Shower

(a work in progress)

Meteors whip flammable gas into flame -
        brief streaks of light
                  between seemingly immortal stars.
Li Po, last poet to hunt immortality,
                wandered city to cave to monastery,
followed the moon across the surface
       of dark water, desperate
                                  to drink that light down.
A brilliant white line scars the night
                  beneath Orion's belt, across Eridanus,
river of souls,
                 pierces the mind, mirrors the flash
         across a synapse. Messages sent from before
the earth was formed:
              What is a thought? What is a dream?

The afterimage haunts the eye: eerie black
                                                light. There, not there;
   same as the poet's legend, illusion as history:
         Li Po dove into the moon and drowned.
But the poetry was real, spontaneous, shadows
                         thrown onto cave walls by torchlight.
Undaunted, (probably drunk), he questioned
        the tigers and dragons that emerged from stone:
              What is a thought? What is a dream?
    What is this strange longing I have for the moon?

I stand on a stone wall, shivering, feet cold,
 watch stone after stone burn the night sky
                            alive. Anchored to earth, the mind
rides the brief light (…a thought, a dream…).
                   Spontaneous whoops and sighs erupt 
from my mouth at each flash:
                        the nervous system recognizing itself…

Li Po was the last poet to hunt down immortality,
             knew the search was futile - and yet
found that a life, a full life, can be made in pursuit
            of the joke:

                                Li Po dove into the moon… 

Another great translator of Li Po is J. P. Seaton, editor and translator of the Shambhala Anthology of Chinese Poetry

A recent book of his Li Po translations: Bright Moon, White Clouds.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

First Day of Snow

More Beauty & Terror

It snowed last Thursday, December 7, and that was the first snow of the year. I woke up, looked out the bedroom window, saw a white void. The entire canyon where I live was enshrouded inside a snow cloud. It was so thick I couldn't see the apple trees lining the coyote fence that are only about ten paces from the window. 

At first, the snow flying around was small, tiny particles, but then became large flakes, flakes stuck to flakes, and the ground was eventually covered. Around noon, the cloud began to thin and clear.

By December, it usually has snowed here in Santa Fe at least twice - more up in the foothills and mountains. Because it hasn't snowed at all this fall, the snow brought up that dread and anxiety I feel when thinking or reading about Climate Change (the summers here are starting to become viciously hot; and most winters are now mild...and Santa Fe is at 7000 feet!).  

Ah, yes, Climate Change: 
the great horror in the mind that we've so desperately tried to make invisible, to erase from every day view. The US is probably the only place left on earth where news outlets still allow crank scientists - paid by oil companies - to talk and babble and keep refluxing their tired ideas that have no basis in fact. 

I have always thought that the desperate urge to believe these cranks is because the horror of Climate Change (the destruction of something so essential and unprecedented as the cycles of nature) is too vast for many to absorb. It's easier to look away, call it all a hoax - like those who keep claiming that all the gun massacres are hoaxes, desperate to cling to their vision of how the world should be - not how it is.

(Believe me, I know how hard it is to see the world as it actually is, but the only way to peace - internal, external - is to see what is right there in front of you...however painful...).

And so thoughts of Climate Change got me to ruminating about those things in this culture that are right out there in plain sight and yet remain invisible, something we see at the corner of the eye, and continually dismiss. 

There are so many of these things that I can't go into the list here...except one:

The wars, so many wars, that the US military is engaged in around the world...

...the war in Afghanistan (in its sixteenth year),the war in Iraq (in its fourteenth year), Libya, Somalia, the skirmishes and black ops all over Africa (as the recent deaths of soldiers in Niger have made clear), in the Philippines...

The carnage and bodies (civilians, children) has increased exponentially in the last ten years.

And so the snow fell through the morning, until about noon. It was beautiful. I have always been entranced by snow. Even when I have to shovel it. Even when it makes the roads treacherous. It calms me. It buries the noise of the world for a little while. It buries the noise in my head for a little while. It illuminates the tracks of animals that normally slink and pad through the night undetected.

In the face of such beauty, the fear, sorrow, and anger continued. Once again, beauty and terror. The beauty and terror moved through me throughout the weekend. The snow has melted, but the thoughts continued. Last night I wrote this (still a work in progress):

First Snow of the Year


The topmost pear branch is a deer femur.

Magpie claw-prints are visible for a few seconds,
then fold into stone.

A perfect sphere of snow gathers on top
of the last standing post of a fallen fence.

Old borders, buried.


Things that were invisible before - fallen
branches and dead stalks, a gopher's hole - 
become visible as snow settles.

A hollow sunflower stalk, head bent down,
bearing the weight of the entire snow cloud,
scans the trees ahead, then begins to move -
stiff, limping - carrying his dead daughter's
possessions on his back. It is all he has. All
that lies between himself and death.


The wars go on and on. Many years ago, they
became invisible, faded into the background.
No war news anymore. When did that happen?

We go to work, come home, eat dinner, talk, 
remark how the moon makes the shadows of things -
     trees, stones, parked cars, houses, walls -
                more real than the things themselves...


Bright moon, clear sky: bone-light on blue snow.

Beyond the bedroom window, something moves.
                        I turn slowly, want it to be a face,
a stranger's face, asking for something,
                                                                a sacrifice -

                        a finger bone, an eye, the part
                 of me that lives inside a cholla thorn
                        lit orange by the setting sun -

but there is nothing there. There is never anything there.



"Every country destroyed or destabilized by U.S. military action is now a breeding ground for terrorism." 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Poems in Hamilton Stone Review: The Close Dark

Two more sections from the long poem
"The Close Dark"
are in the current issue of

The cover includes a triptych,
Virgens de Guadalupe
by Lynda Schor

Lynda Schor 

"The Close Dark"
is a personal journey
to find a balance between
the alluring and familiar darkness 
of the Hindu goddess 
and aspects of the Christian Mary. 

Chauvet cave

"The Close Dark" begins in a stone hut in the Cevennes mountains, moves to Philadelphia, then Rocamadour, France, eventually passing through a dream-like motel that resembles Chauvet cave…

La Cieneguilla Petroglyph Site, Santa Fe

The two sections in Hamilton Stone Review take place on a cliff-side full of petroglyphs on the south side of Santa Fe.

Other sections of 
"The Close Dark"
can be found in
Peacock Journal 

The final section of the poem 
can be found in the current issue 
The Bitter Oleander.

Issue 37 of the Hamilton Stone Review includes work by:

Tony Beyer, Don Brandis, Kevin Casey, Patrick Connelly, Tesa Blue Flores, Jack Freeman, Stephen Gibson, J.M. Hall, stone hedra, Lynn Strongin, John Stupp, Aden Thomas, Richard Weaver, and Mark Young, Nick Bertelson, Garrison Botts, Jonathan Ferrini, Moriah Hampton, Mike Koenig, Patricia Leonard, Sara Cahill Marrom, Eliza Segiet, and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub.

Lynda Schor

it's snowing here!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Glass Needles & Goose Quills: The Poetry of Lissa Kiernan

This is another episode of "Poetry? I just don't get it..."
A series where I post a poem or group of poems by one author, followed by anything the author wants to say about the work. (Other poets in the series can be found on the tab above.)

Two Faint Lines in the Violet
(Negative Capability Press, 2014) 
This time around, the poetry of 

I was reading her excellent first book,

(a 2014 Foreword Reviews' INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award finalist, 
as well as a finalist for the Julie Suk Award for Best Poetry Book by an Independent Press),

a book that includes a series about the death of her father from cancer
and its relation to the toxic waste leaking from a now-decommissioned nuclear facility upriver from where he lived, and admired how each poem in the book informs the others, how the personal expands to include a much larger world.

I immediately wanted to post a poem from the book on the blog, but I also wanted to present the interconnections in the book, show how the poems work together. My first thought was to ask her for three poems...

Glass Needles & Goose Quills
(Haley's, 2017)
It just so happened that she had just published a new book, 
that intermingled prose and poetry. She sent me an excerpt and it was exactly what I was looking for…

So, instead of posting the poems first and ending with an explanation or essay, this round is an excerpt from her new book, where the poems are intermixed with explanations of how the poems came about.

Lissa Kiernan is the founder, executive director, and a teaching artist for the Poetry Barn, a literary center based in New York's Hudson Valley, sponsoring workshops, readings, craft talks, and book arts for all ages.

Poetry Barn, West Hurley, NY

Thanks to Lissa for letting me post these excerpts.
Without further ado:

Excerpts from

Glass Needles & Goose Quills:
Elementary Lessons 
in Atomic Properties, 
Nuclear Families & Radical Poetics

Reconciling the strange bedfellows of poetry and polemics can result in artistic catastrophe and the protest poem is where they are just dying to hook up. Even Denise Levertov, the ultimate protest poet, in her 1981 essay, “On the Edge of Darkness: What is Political Poetry?” wondered whether “polemical content” can make for good poetry. She observed that prior to the advent of the printing press, poetry was an oral, communal experience. People welcomed a poem that concerned itself with politics as a decent way of getting the day’s news.

By 1620, though, Francis Bacon could write that typographical printing had “changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world.” Consequently, lyric poetry—perhaps the most personal mode—came to be more highly regarded than epic, dramatic, or satiric poetry, according to Levertov, encouraged by the novel's quickly growing affinity for the topics with which these non-lyric modes were traditionally concerned.

By 1955, poetry’s purview in matters of mass communication had all but been absolved, as William Carlos Williams observed:

                              It is difficult
                              to get the news from poems
                              yet men die miserably every day
                              for lack
                              of what is found there.

                            —excerpt from “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” Journey to Love (1955)


                        Three decades after the Three Mile Island nuclear accident halted all new                          reactor orders, President Barack Obama announced $8 billion in federal loan                          guarantees to build two new nuclear reactors in Georgia.

Five hours into jury pool, I am burned out
on poetry. What I am thirsty for is news.
Good. News.

O, MSNBC, guide me through
this inverted world, turned back
180 degrees on its stalk.

Enough of this crazy heat!
I feel impelled to speak today
in a language that, in a sense, is new.

I, too, would like a plan for clean,
safe energy. One which generates
jobs, ideally, since I am now six

paychecks behind. One that fills
in the pit of partisanship
with some sensible, recyclable waste.

Voir dire. To see them say. False
etymology. I see the president
say it. His lips, that is, are moving.

But how do I know that he believes,
with every atom, his axiom?
Whether he’s seen the burning

bush, the worried wind, the patient
sun? Just one. Who stands light-
rinsed for the cameras with the clarity of a star.

Levertov concludes her essay with the conviction that “whether these poems are good or not depends on the gifts of the poet, not on the subject matter.” Whatever poetic gifts I may have then possessed were being put severely to the test. Possibly seeking emotional distance, I initially chose write my protests as epistles, aka letters, in an archaic, semi-Elizabethan-era diction—the mask of a spiritual witness from a bygone era. When I shared one with my mentor, she told me that, to her ear, the speaker’s voice sounded comical. Not quite the effect I had been going for.


who was rarely ill in all his life, lay failing
in a bed shrouded white and verily said unto me:
knowst thou that my neighbor, too, has a brain sickness?

Wherefore he made his home a stone’s throw
down shady unpaved roads. Past the Eagle's
Nest, Salmon Ladder, and Hairpin

Turn, until at last a silver filament glinted
beside, more stream than river, more rill,
at summer’s peak, than stream. And it was good,

this radiant child of the Deerfield River.
He would sit atop a sturdy rock and watch the water
rise. Mark whence it heaved and whither

it sighed, and soon, it became habit to bathe there—
blind to what simmered upstream in sapphire
pools, heating grassy banks where children

dodged balls, turned cartwheels, played tag.
Where corn is tilled and squash blossoms. Milk-
Animals graze on brilliant greens, udders aglow

in the moon. And lo — one day my father’s brain-
films cast shadows and men in white coats
proclaimed: Rightfully, we do not know

from whence it came. It is possible it is genetic.
Furthermore, it may have been trauma.
We suspect, though, something in the environment.

Nevertheless, I wondered if humor—intentional humor, that is—might be a way to trick people into reading political poetry, specifically those poems concerning a nuclear power plant. I was beginning to realize I could use all the help I could get. An aging nuclear power plant is not nearly as “sexy” as a bomb. Ninety-nine percent of the poems I had unearthed in the nuclear canon concerned themselves with the prospect of nuclear war, not nuclear energy. Any factory, nuclear or otherwise is, at least to the untutored, the very definition of routine, tedium, boredom.


                        —NRC Inspection Report No. 50-029/2003-002







After declaring this item "An Official Agency Record," it
will/will not be released to the public.

My found poem “Items Opened, Closed, and Discussed,” from an NRC Inspection Report issued in December 2004, is on the one hand comical because someone saw fit to give nothingness a formal, agenda-like structure. However, it can also be read on another level: As a poem that bears witness to nothing when nothing could be less appropriate. The poem thus serves as a whisper-quiet protest.

The quietness of it is frightening—grotesque, even. I recently participated in a workshop that used Philip Thomson’s The Grotesque (1972) in its syllabus. The Grotesque outlines several functions of that style’s aesthetic: playfulness, experimentation, and a comic perspective to name a few. Thomson says:

"It is likely that the play-urge, the desire to invent and 'experiment' for its own sake, is a factor in all artistic creation, but we can expect this factor to be more than usually strong in grotesque art and literature, where the breaking down and restructuring of familiar reality plays such a large part."


My idea of heaven? A place to hang and eat
good food that is, for the most part, bad for you.
Serves alcohol and a decent happy hour, too.

I don’t have to wait long in line. It's a calm
place, ideal for striking up conversation.
The wings are bomb, coming in six

stages of explosion. When I'm feeling sanguine,
I get them mild, medium, or hot.
When masochistic, I order the nuclear,

suicidal, or abusive. Food arrives within minutes:
crispy and conducive to detonating
on my tongue like a drunken Baryshnikov

on vacation. Now I can go atomic
without having to leave my home. Hark—
I hear the bell! My deliverance is at hand.

Since I had already been toying with the idea of using more humor in my poems, the grotesque immediately piqued my curiosity. My poem “Dad Gets His Atomic Wings” derives from experimentation with the grotesque as well as with found poetry, using many phrases that I lifted and tweaked from the official web site of the Atomic Wings franchise. While I still feel faintly embarrassed by the poem’s cartoonish take on the subject of my father’s death, I have to admit the take is unique and succeeds in being unsentimental. According to, the Academy of American Poets website:

"The writer Annie Dillard has said that turning a text into a poem doubles that poem's context. 'The original meaning remains intact,' she writes, 'but now it swings between two poles.'" 

Growing up, I wanted to become a veterinarian. I owned cats, turtles, hamsters, and a hermit crab. I took riding lessons and saw myself at the helm of a large-animal farm in Vermont one day, like my hero, James Herriot, pen name of veterinary surgeon James Alfred Wight, author of All Creatures Great and Small. When it came time to talk to my guidance counselor about future plans, he listened quietly, nodding at my story of finding an injured baby bird when I was six and, with my father’s assistance, pitching a tent in my backyard to set up a “practice.” He listened silently to all of it and,  when I finished, leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms and legs, and said: “Well, sure. All little girls love horses.”

Casually, he went on to dismiss my dream job, citing its difficulty, the years of medical school, and the strong stomach it would take. But it was the phrase “All little girls” that gave me pause. I might have been young, but I instinctively recognized that I was being trivialized.

“Little Boy,” the name given the bomb that the United States dropped on Hiroshima, was also intended to minimize its scale—the scale of its horror. Psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, who focuses mostly on motivations for war in his and Richard Falk’s Indefensible Weapons: The Political and Psychological Case against Nuclearism (1991) believes that our instinct is to mitigate our anxiety about nuclearism’s dangers by minifying the language we use to speak about them:

"In calling them 'nukes,' for instance, we render them small and 'cute,'something on the order of a household pet… Quite simply, these words provide a way of talking about nuclear weapons without really talking about them."

                        —Lifton & Falk, as quoted in Nuclear Annihilation and Contemporary American Poetry, John Gery (1996)

During a lecture at Poets House in New York City, Michael Heller, a leading scholar of Objectivist poetics, spoke about Charles Reznikoff’s Holocaust (2007), a collection based on verbatim transcripts of the Nuremberg Trials. Heller stated that Objectivists do not seek to impose a viewpoint on the reader but merely aim to make a record of something.

Muriel Rukeyser’s The Book of the Dead (2003)—a series of poems portraying the story of the Hawk Nest Tunnel Disaster, a hydroelectric project in West Virginia—also contains several poems set in a courtroom. “Statement: Philippa Allen” transcribes a first-hand witness account of a social worker, and “The Disease” is a deposition of a doctor about employee incidents of silicosis, the disease caused by silicate dust in the mines.

Because the poems in The Book of the Dead involve injury and death resulting from an energy company’s irresponsibility and negligence, I saw them as natural precedent to the poems I was writing—or trying to write—about Yankee Rowe. Trying my hand at the Objectivist poetry method, I began lightly editing and lineating source texts culled from the Yankee Rowe archive, plundering inspection and industry reports, newspaper clippings, and minutes from town meetings, piecing them together as evidence.


The facility is a small nuclear power generation station,
the third built in the country and the first in New England.

            Little Boy Blue, come blow your horn.

The facility stopped generation in 1992—
is being decommissioned.

            The sheep's in the meadow, the cow's in the corn.

The facility is served by a single potable supply well (02G).
The original well was abandoned during the decommissioning.

            Where is the boy that looks after the sheep?

Numerous local, state, and federal programs regulate activities
at the facility. Well 02G is approximately 280 feet deep,

            Under the haycock, fast asleep.

set into sound bedrock beneath 246 feet of glacial till.
Parts of the facility include radiological storage.

            Will you wake him? No, not I—

The Department determined the well located at the facility
to have a high vulnerability to contamination.

            For if I do, he'll be sure to cry.

            FACILITY (noun) definition of:

                        1. ease in performance
                        2. readiness of compliance
                        3. something (as a HOSPITAL) that is built,                                       installed, or established to serve a particular                                               purpose

     Keith Harmon Snow:

“Facility” or “plant” is too neat, tidy, sterile. Nuclear “power” suggests strength and security. Nuclear “energy” sings of sunshine and children playing, not of what it really is: the harnessing of a nuclear bomb.

                                    — “Nuclear Poisons,” Valley Advocate Newspapers (July 1995)

                        PLANT (noun) definition of:

                        1. a young tree, vine, shrub, or herb planted or                                 suitable for planting
                        2. a factory or workshop for the manufacture of                                a particular product, also: POWER PLANT

                        PLANT (verb) definition of:
                        1. to put or set in the ground for growth
                        2. to covertly place for discovery, publication, or                                                     dissemination
                        3. to conceal

                        Citizens Awareness Network:

“NRC plans to close all Public Document Rooms in the country by year’s end, stifling democratic participation by communities concerned with contamination from their nuclear corporate neighbors.”

In “Facility Name: Yankee Electric. Facility Description: Power Plant,” I borrow text from a Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection report titled “Source Water Assessment and Protection Report for Yankee Atomic Electric Company.” After reading it, one mentor skillfully observed: “In a collection, it lets the industry and its watchdogs do the reporting, and the poet is like a good district attorney, reading the letters of the accused to the courtroom and then asking: ‘Do you recognize this letter?’”

Another mentor suggested that I weave in lines from a fairy tale or folk song to add lyricism to the industrial-speak. I settled on “Little Boy Blue” for its pastoral setting, not consciously realizing its suggestion of the Hiroshima bomb’s code name until she pointed it out to me.

Lissa Kiernan


The title, “Atoms for Peace,” and the sentence, “I feel the need to speak today in a language that in a sense is new,” are borrowed from a speech delivered by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to the UN General Assembly in New York City on December 8, 1953.

“Facility” incorporates text from Source Water Assessment and Protection (SWAP) Report for Yankee Atomic Electric Company, as well as a popular English-language nursery rhyme having a Round Folk Song Index number of 11318.


You can also purchase Lissa's books through the Citizens Awareness Network's (CAN) Amazon Smile Link, for sales on Amazon. CAN was key to the closing of Yankee Rowe Nuclear Power Plant.