Darlene Pagan: "The Quarry"




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.