Heimlich + Silkwood

David Moolten


For Shira

In German, it’s just a word
that means secret, like a three-year-old
in the dining room, no witnesses
crowding around as at the Y
where I’d stand like a dummy asking one
are you okay? before going 
through the motions, the important things
moron-proof like footprints
painted on the floor at a dance studio.
I’ve memorized screaming Jesus
while my daughter rises
as if to offer a toast and speaks pantomime.
She’d swallowed a grape, a precursor to wine
in the sacristy, a ball valve’s physics
suddenly the abyss
whose mystery I must embrace, a tango
more than repeating the steps,
though if one believes I guess it’s all inspired
flailing, one long maneuver which fails
because c’est la vie. She begged a meal of air, 
higher you’d call it sky,
and despite the sermon about groping
pushing what’s stuck farther down,
who could blame my hands
for taking matters in their own hands?
Blessed are the morons,
for they’re used to amazement
as a punchline,the inexpressible
as their final answer.


I live in Philly, plutonium in Apollo, a small town
where they buried thousands of tons
I don’t visit when I drop by to see you in Pittsburgh. 
We have so little in common 
anymore, lo these years between us five seconds 
in plutonium’s day-planner, a single breath 
of dust enough. I read somewhere a jar 
with Karen Silkwood on the label
and something in formaldehyde 
still sits on a shelf at Los Alamos.
Of all the women arrested for hugging 
a fence on Three Mile Island
who gave her name, it was you
I’d skinny-dipped with in the Susquehanna, your mist
and body heat when we stood
wrapped in the same towel
time reminds me of, not plumes of tainted steam.
I read somewhere the chemicals
we know as thoughts 
weigh a trillionth of an ounce. Half my life 
is gone. Plutonium remains, more patient 
than landfills, the latest movie 
or topic of conversation, apostrophe mostly 
for effect the way Geiger counters sound
like dry leaves getting crushed 
or how I feel when I realize 
I’ve loved ten people since. Compare and contrast 
with cancer, the dumb dirt’s steady beacon.

David Moolten‘s most recent book, Primitive Mood, won the T.S. Eliot Prize (Truman State University Press, 2009). He lives & writes in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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