"The Selfish Gene" 50cm X 105cm watercolor Dima Rebus

"The Selfish Gene"
50cm X 105cm
watercolor
Dima Rebus

VIVIAN FAITH PRESCOTT

In a good mushroom year

reindeer gorge themselves
on isotopes.

           Functionality test in a power outage.
                     Only a test.

            Emergency lights blinked and did not stop.
            Cooling system overheated.

            Reactor number four. The power surged.
                      Emergency shutdown.

            Another spike in power. Vessels ruptured,
                      steam exploded. Graphite moderator

                      exposed and ignited.

April showers bring radioactivity.     One drop.
          One touch of isotopes carried by wind

to lakes and streams, through whitefish
          and pike, birch and pine forests,

cloudberries, sorrel, and lichen.
          Radioactive surveillance helicopters

hover over homes and playgrounds,
          follow our children. We run

into our homes, huddle in living rooms,
          curtains open at night, watching

spring snow bring cesium 137 isotopes.
          It’s half-life is 30 years so we wait

for 30 days before we go outside.
          We are carried by wind and spring rains

deep into lichen. We used to harvest
           the whole reindeer: entrails, the heart,

liver, antlers, hooves, skin, and blood.
          But now we dig burial pits for the deer.

Bloody animal carcasses. We keep
          separate food boxes in the freezer:

uncontaminated reindeer meat dyed blue
          for our little ones. Another box

for adults: uncle, auntie, cousins.
          Grandpa and Grandma eat the radioactive.

Later, governments declare and undeclare:
          risk threshold, and marketability limit.

Again, we care for the deer meat.
          Once again, use the blood, the head,

put the feet in soup. We make sinew,
          prepare skins and furs.

At home, a mother prepares a school
          lunchbox for her child, ponders the half-life

of the Sámi matter—which is the time
          it takes for one-half of the atoms

in our bodies to decay.

If
          a Sámi has a half-life of 30 years,

then in 30 years one-half of my body
          will decay. One half will remain.

Then, in another 30 years, one-half
          of my body will decay

leaving one-fourth of me.
          Half of what remains will decay

each half-life until I am a particle,
          supercharged. Superchanged:

a new unit of radioactive measurement.
          One nuclear disintegration per second

that blinks and does stop, a power surge
          pulsing like flying on mushrooms

into the northern lights. What remains
          within our cells, is how our children

and our grandchildren speak in bequerels—
          a new dialect—asking one another,

“Did you walk in the rain last spring?”

 

 

Vivian Faith Prescott is a fifth generation Alaskan of Sámi heritage living at her family’s fishcamp on the small island of Wrangell located at the mouth of the Stikine River. She’s the founder and co-facilitator of Blue Canoe Writers and Flying Island Writers in Sitka and Wrangell. Her poetry has appeared in Yellow Medicine Review, Cirque Literary Journal, Poecology, and elsewhere. She’s the author of a full-length poetry collection, The Hide of My Tongue (Plain View Press), and her 3rd chapbook Traveling With the Underground People is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press (July 2017).