A Child of God, Much Like Yourself:
A Mutagenic Fantasia
“I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation.”
— Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
I. Wormwood, Gall [Chernobyl, 1986, 2011]
He snatched a fire and cocked it. Bang, he said. First, the face vibrates with stinging pins that pierce the skull with white light. Stippling against snow, he sparked. A metallic taste of iron sucked, sickening the tongue. Gag, coughing and vomiting as insides deliquesce, atomic bonds unlocking arms, the way a cold front melts or a Cold War melts down, Soviet states of matter breaking up. He flailed, faultline, and burned absolute in his innards like saints.
Children play in Ukrainian rain that turns black and oily. A gentle murder. Each child a lit lantern to be blown out: a toddler whose torso blooms into a tumor, other self fused in a collision; abandoned boy, spraddlelegged and ragged, slithering on a floormat and lapping oatmeal like a whining pack animal, laborious gargoyle, unlearned; a girl radiant in the frail sheathing of her throat — unpinned ribbon of tongues, odd steel of grace tonged to the fire’s temper — until the doctors cut out her thyroid, glowing Chernobyl necklace. Winter, outraged, cauterized them young.
The elderly return, following the trails of mushrooms shining in the forest, find their way back by the lights of their own throats. In the Russia under Russia it is daylight all the time now. They prefer to die on familiar contaminated soil than in the anonymity of cities. Around them the forest thrives, crackling alive — the world’s background noise increased threefold, its jaw a galvanized fist chattering — static hum, hidden in the milk like spilt glitter. They say the lost come back as boars, as luminous deer, as swallows, songs in their scarred throats, frayed breath a vicious hissing.
In the zone’s irradiated radius, the concrete sarcophagus admits visitors minutes at a time.
II. No Romper Room for Miss Sherri [Germany, 1962]
Little seal, little seed rutted ill, you slid through a thalidomide-ridden womb, homemade jigsaw pieced of slumpshouldered bump, concealed for days from your mother until your flippers affixed to prosthetics for a gaudy appearance of passing. Beautiful mutant, nubbin shucked bare, night-damp and humped in a dream-midden, middle-aged now and what if no one to remind us of this ghostly treason? What then? Body shucked bare, selkie-like, the seal the true skin.
III. Theodore Roosevelt Approves This Message [Eugenics, ongoing]
Everywhere mothers spilt their milk, spilt fetuses they feared, fearing that ancient threat: that a woman visited with a corrupt birth be with her brood buried alive, each child a lit lantern to be blown out. Vicious hammer, springloaded, sprocketing like an uncoiled snare. Slow occlusion rolling her to doom. A severe doom, you will say, and not to be used among Christians, yet more to be looked into than it is. Keep the life stream pure of some self-veering mutant, meniscus tilting aswamp. Cleft Palate. Anencephaly. Feminism. Negro Criminal Youth. Idiot Brain. Asymmetrical Face. Wrong blood, borne up.
I’m supposed to be here, he said.
IV. Orange Agents, Ready for Round-Up [Red River Valley, 2013]
Closer to home, women miscarry or give birth to genetically modified organisms near a river whose banks overfloweth with farm runoff, opaque vitriolic to prevent more bad biology from breeding in. One baby bleeds out in utero, blowed tree a shapeless bloom; another’s catastrophic defects cause a cascade of shutdowns, no way to live in the ordered mistake of his losses. Palmupward, they bore it, crude agrarian figures in a violent mural. You who have seen death — a coffin-sized door, canted —
V. [Fukushima, 2013]
— go now, goddamned.
Italicized phrases are lines from an erasure poem I made from Cormac McCarthy’s novels Child of God and Outer Dark; also contains riffs on lines from Lucie Brock-Broido.
Fusco, Paul. Chernobyl Legacy.
NoBody’s Perfect. Dir. Niko von Glasow. Perf. Fred Dove, Mat Fraser, Stefan Fricke. Palladio, 2008. Film.Nuclear Nightmares: Twenty Years Since Chernobyl. Photos Robert Knoth; reporting Antoinette DeJong.
Owens-Adair, Bethenia. Human Sterilization: It’s [sic] Social and Legislative Aspects. Portland, OR: Metropolitan, 1922.
Talbot, Eugene S. Degeneracy: Its Causes, Signs, and Results. London: Scott, 1898.about the author