I grew up in the sort of American town
where the women wore floral print dresses
to church and it was assumed we would stay home
and make babies and seven-layer-dip while
the men watched football. The basements
all had black mold. Occasionally tornadoes
tore the rooftops off our homes and schools.
Power lines crackled overhead.
One of my teachers was fired
for bringing a gun to school.
I filled the hours with biking down
long empty stretches of road,
the unbeautiful lawns and concrete,
dead trees, occasionally dodging cicadas.
Later it was dates in pizza parlors, babysitting,
homecoming with hairspray and shiny dresses.
When our parents were around they mostly
yelled at each other, sometimes about money,
sometimes about the troubles their boys
got into that week. No one there was innocent.
We didn’t drink the water and the air burned
in our lungs and throats. Once the river caught
on fire, a blazing miracle of poison. In elevators people
spoke about local teams, how well they were doing.
The well water gave some people cancer,
but the government suppressed all the studies.
I saw them by accident.
Just like working at the children’s hospital,
I saw that they used to experiment on children
with cancer, giving them x-rays and doses of radiation
to see if it killed them. That was years before
I got there, but I didn’t forget. It seemed every building
had its secrets, rats or roaches, children underground,
fire alarms that misfired, emergency exits
that never lead anywhere. I outran my origin story,
I learned poetry instead. I huddle close to the rocks
and mountains, stay close to the whispers
of the sea, that say, forget, forget, forget.
about the author