Back to Issue Thirty-Four

A tendency to survive after disaster



April 26, 1986; March 11, 2011


Cherry trees are growing up through the house.
This morning we found another slug climbing the kitchen wall.


I’m going to tell you once:
the day you leave you’d better
do it all. No coming back.
No carloads.
Get your suitcase
and get out.


Within thirty miles of the disaster site animals’ bodies are useless.
At first embryos just dissolved. Being in reverse.

We went back to cells, back to what it was safe to eat.


The cherry tree
the front window is a sign
that things go on.

Counting roentgens
we made
our way through sumac,
elk droppings.


If you’ve left laundry on the line, don’t go back; it’s raining now.


I’m lying on the bed and preserving the shape of your body
even though your body isn’t there.

I’m stroking the indent with one most gentle finger.
Rationing this too.
The blankets are glowing. The sheets in the closet are alive.

Saplings grow through things that soften.
I can feel the small trees starting in my abdomen.
Beloved you have forgotten one shoe here in the room.


You started
down the road
before me—

I can still see the shape
of your back—our house
and our cherry

trees crying out
for the living,

decaying, my

papers floating

out the door

beyond you the ashes

of another city—


The veil of dust is attached to almost everything
and someone is beginning the new song,
the one we sang that day, in the dark, when even the notes were visible,
the one that begins in fire and ends with orchards growing
in our house—



Nuclear Geography



Inland counties, arriving
            on the last train I saw cooling towers.
                        Outline of a coal plant’s a nuclear

plant where I come from.
            West Midlands, Water Orton,
                        where white birch stand in succession.

I saw your bright orange coat.
            Your work pants striped with reflective tape.
                        Repetitive unburnished roofs

of your houses and your council estate 
            flats. All through the Midlands
                        men’s bodies pile up in their brightness.

Telephone poles, high-tension electric 
            towers, columns supporting overpasses
                        in the middle of nowhere a city

on a hill. I saw the factory wall
            literally falling in as the train sped
                        past, and people standing in line

for smelting.
            The gas frames rise
                        and the arched train bridges

                        follow along.
            None of your business, 
none of your business.
Outside the car
            the silence of
                        large machines
                                                                 —oxeye daisy

—when women begin
            to miscarry systemically
                        prescribe the knotted

compound heads of tansy, 
            tell them not to worry,
                        distribute government

pamphlets, issue
            plastic bottles of water,
                        let the matter rest.

When syntax falls ill,
            let poems say nothing.
                        Pass samizdat on milk

cartons. Believe or don’t
            believe in a landscape that keeps
                        passing, passing.

Across the aisle, two 
            men debate loudly
                        in a language

I don’t speak. A pair
            of British Transport
                        Police arrest

all Chinese nationals.
            The train is emptier.
                        The age

of deportation begins
            with a whisper.

                        on a hill.
            Onions in the allotments,
huts, shacks, hidey-holes, a tree

house, a gamekeeper’s lodge,
            places in the woods:
                        now the woods

growing up in them.
            Midlands hawthorn
                        in a shelled-out room.

This is the last
            train departing
                        for Coventry.

Variegated ivy pushing
            through tile in our
                        last rented house.

                                                                 —a moss, what was it 
                                                                 called, did you know?

A fine misting rain starts
            and the steeple of a church
                        blurs in the near distance—

the land
            smells like burning

First question always a question 
            of remainder: remnant.
                        Meaning, who stays? 

Oblique and perfect
            curve. The canal.

                                                                 —We did it perfectly
                                                                             we kept all the original features
the ear
            of the other is
                        pressed to the door
                        in houses 
            where breakdown
seems inevitable 
            into fields 
                        what is left
            although it will
not save us 
                        to the unnamed
            to the paperless
hidden ones

                                                                 —Ribes rubrum
                                                                  Ribes nigrum
                                                                             Ribes uva-crispa
                                                                 —Saxifraga rosacea
a glandular hair
            appearance of blowflies
                        inside buildings


of seaweed is in some
            places believed
                        to be an antidote

                        to doses
            as strong as 300
            one another

Meanwhile observatories and
            their geodesic domes passing.
                        The ewe sheep

and the lambs lying all over
            a field, the brightness
                        of the land coming

from the land, under the gray
            sky. One whiteness
                        the wool, one limestone

cuts in earth show
            on a far hill.
                        How many hundreds

of years will we wait
            to cultivate these places

                                                                 —Drosophilia melanogaster
In the evening there is still
            a glow at certain angles.
                        Longboat on sandbar.

A field now of black
            and brown cows slumping,
                        green-tagged ears.

Gray face
            of an ewe next to a fallen
                        tree. Where sun

comes, the fields are chartreuse.
            This is something to remember.
                        As they remove visas

from the passport books and the books
            change color. Even after
                        the desolation

of the earth. We rode 
            into this sunlight,
                        we turned toward it.

A mountain, almost
            not there in the distance.
                        It was like I dreamt it.

They are burning tires now, 
            near the pink house.

                                                                 —Urtica dioica L. 
                                                                     —Rumex acetosa L. 

                                                                                 —in about 1796
the pollen
            nearly always defective
                        a characteristic apple
            when crushed
when discovered
(by illiterates by
                        by Sir H—
            L—, name-grantor,
it had been in use
            in kitchen
            for centuries

Houses on the hill
            near Bristol Temple
                        Meads Station, pink

white cream royal blue red 
            yellow pale purple.
                        Fence and wall

painted with paint engineered 
            to prevent human
                        hands from gripping.

Where a back wall was, the torched
            interior. Much more often
                        a blue house, a pale

bright blue house, here.
            Evidence of the human.
                        Even in an unpruned

apple orchard near an oxbow 

                                                                 —the introduction of these 
                                                                 elements to, the imposition of these
                                                                 elements upon
                                                                 —a human body

                                                                 —the properties of such elements 

                                                                 —a suitable test population

results in
            nausea hair
                        loss diarrhea
            damage to bone
and central
            nervous system
                        behind you
            don’t give out
your name


Near Yatton a row of tiny
            houses: lace and scallops.

houses of the early twentieth 
            century. Seashell

A man in the carriage
            says the machine et it
                        and means it.

Our telephones pick
            up our tone. Satellites
                        track the train.

He eats the entire
            apple, except the stem.
                        Seeds are precious.

Holds out a package of old
            biscuits and tea.
                        A doll-faced

balding child regards
            the scene. Wind dusts
                        a factory’s empty

columns. Birds
            can’t steer. Thirty or so
                        caravans huddle in the lee.

The Somerset Heritage
            Center now a metal
                        frame. For several miles, hills

of ore or gravel. Sandbags
            deserted in rail ditch.
                        They are burning

something nearer, now.
            The air is all afresh with it.



The end of history



To define force—it is that x that turns anybody who is subjected to it into a thing.

The general called it my other heart.
The chemist, a soft, silvery-white element.
The physicist wrote, a change in current generates a force.

Baptized on auction block,
the theory receives Communion
6,600 feet above Nagasaki.

A thread clung to my
dark clothes, a little thread.
It would not let go.


In newspapers it was unlinked
from everything around it:
technological perfection, descending.

It is not unlinked from me.
On whom was made no such experiment.
Its where constituent of its what.

In an all-white space, almost
no oxygen around that thread;
almost no language left at all.


Éireann Lorsung is the author of two previous collections of poems: Her book and Music for Landing Planes By, which was named a New and Noteworthy collection by Poets & Writers, and The Century, forthcoming in October 2020. She received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 2016. Since completing an MFA at the University of Minnesota, Lorsung has studied printmaking and drawing at Scuola Internazionale di Grafica in Venice and taught high school in rural France. While living in Belgium, she ran a micropress called MIEL Books and a residency space called Dickinson House for writers and artists. She is Visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing – Nonfiction at the University of Maine, Farmington.

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