POETRY: MICHAEL BARTELT – GRANTS, NM

Grants, NM

I remember coming home in the evening
to a pregnant wife carrying our first.
Worked in the Uranium mines
at the time, about all there was to do
other than pump gas
and paid twice as much,
a no brainer—
made $6 an hour
with a daughter on the way.
Plus, at the gas station,
no one ever told you
you’re an American hero,
you’re helping the Cold War effort,
you’re a patriot.

No one ever told us anything
about the dangers of standing knee high
in water containing uranium run-off,
wearing paper masks among the yellow dust
filling the exhaust fan air, cleaning
the uranium off hopeless air filters—
masks around our necks
because they’d been clogged.

The inspectors from the government
never got out of their trucks, and supervisors
had us barricade the unsafe areas, go back in
when the inspectors went back home
to their wives and kids in clean shirts.

I went home everyday in a yellow-caked shirt.
My wife threw it in with the rest of the laundry.
Our daughter came out with no hips…

And it’s 50 years later, and we won the Cold War,
but my wife and I both have tumors on our lungs.
That’s just the price we pay for National Security.
And it’s no consolation that the Navajos had it worst.

I almost felt what it was like to be Indian
when all my friends died
and the town became a wasteland.
One buddy of mine shot himself—
poor guy said he didn’t wanna be in a diaper.

The biggest tumor of them all is the stockpile
of 4,760 nuclear warheads, the national monument
to injustice, death, cancer, Depends, and terror—
the price we pay for National Security.

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