Great slabs of concrete laid along the shore
made for risky diving boards but after
Midwest storms filled the rock quarry,
it offered the only escape from mosquitoes
and the wool net of humidity. Kids
made out there. Adults dumped
concrete, washers, stoves, junk metal,
sometimes litters of kittens and scrappy dogs
whose howling ricocheted back into town.
The chemical plant spilled mill tillings
from thorium waste. Offered it free
to residents as landfill. With the right
wind gust, gases turned the windows blue
and ate into the curtains like corn borers.
Mostly, only the boys dove. The girls
sunned themselves on piles of towels,
tanning their skin to a burnt sugar,
lightening their hair, unraveling
long limbs from their child bodies like
strands from a braid. Faces flushed
and overheated, they’d smoke joints
then hunt for clusters of tadpoles
in the black radioactive sand,
giggling when the boys tried to sneak
up on them from under the water.
Sober, the last to fill out, I’d watch
their bodies move like flames as they licked
their lips and smiled at some inward joke.
If we knew about the frogs found with limbs
sprouting every which way, it never
registered. Neither did the maps
of our hometown in the news, covered
in hot spots, and the men in suits talking
as if we suffered from a case
of the chicken pox—something
we’d get over if we’d just stop itching.
Decades later, after I moved away,
I’d look at the map of the clean-up sites—
the quarry, the park, the elementary school,
the rivers like veins bleeding into farms,
the blister of a mound at the edge of town—
only now underway. Too late for me.
Too late for the girls I never kept
in touch with like mirages in those neon
bikinis, lithe and liquid, skin aglow.
Darlene Pagan teaches writing and literature at Pacific University in Oregon and published a chapbook of poems, Blue Ghosts, with Finishing Line Press. Her poems have most recently appeared in journals such as Calyx, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Poet Lore, Hiram Poetry Review, and Hawaii Pacific Review.