Burial Grounds explores the nuclear legacy of plutonium production at Hanford -- the most contaminated site in the western hemisphere -- and its ongoing impacts on human and environmental health. From nuclear reactors to the cores of nuclear submarines to storage tanks leaking radioactive waste, work in this theme delves into the contamination with which nuclear technology has burdened the earth.
Document Drawing - Doug Gast
Doug Gast. 67 Leakers. 2008
Photo by Richard Nicol
As I swing on the gate at my friend's house
I watch white suited men disappear inside.
their wand-like counters cackle
at invisible findings
spoken only in whispers
from neighbor to neighbor.
My friend and her mom are gone
to find refuge from gawkers like me
or absolution for their part
urging her dad to carry home in his lunchbox
useful office goods and tools
from the plutonium plant.
Her dad is hidden at the hospital
where I hear they are washing him.
Imagine the vats of steamy suds it must take
to scrub away the badness
and how would they know when he's done
all wrinkled and pink?
Swinging back and forth, I think maybe
sins are found finally by fancy wands
wielded by silent men in white.
They crisscross the lawn
pace in and out of the house
and for a time I feel invisible.
When the white suits pass close
the wand's static grows
loud, urgent -
I bolt from my foothold
and worry my way home
counting my sins.
--Irene D. Hays
I cupped an exploded milkweed pod –
The air so still
Seeds would not shake out;
The light in the husk
Both blinding and delicate –
Like that moment at Ground Zero
When eye pods implode
Dark seeds of death light.
– Richland, 1985
This poem is included in the collection
Downwind, Downriver, New and Selected Poems.
West End Press, October, 2000
Colleen Clement. From the series Secret Layers
(clockwise from top left: K-East & K-West Reactors, Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility,118-k-1 Burial Ground, Liquid Effluent Retention Facility). 2011
Photo by Richard Nicol
Untitled Landscape, John White.
In the upturned earth
history’s markers seep like a tracer
through the hard beds
of rock and soil, veins
with their faint pulse
set the Geiger counter
clucking. Here secrecy and science
were forged, town and reactors erected
against the push of dust
and wind, workers bent to their task
grit in their mouths
a film of dust gracing
their cheekbones, entering the nose,
the eyelids’ border. The plutonium
yielded for Fat Man’s core,
and there, Bockscar opened its hatches
over Nagasaki, birds in flight burst
into flame, women and children
turned to shadow and stone.
Now the desert ticks
the herons’ ragged course tracks
across the river, elements
dispersed in silt
a burial's trajectory.
-- Nancy Dickeman