River Rail Colby Issue
River Rail

Atomic Shade, Uncene, Chain Reaction

Poetry by Kristin George Bagdanov

Atomic Shade

(A few vague human silhouettes were found . . . a painter on a ladder was monumentalized in a kind of bas-relief on the stone façade of a bank building on which he was at work, in the act of dipping his brush into his paint can . . .)

—John Hersey, “Hiroshima” (1946)

Light inverted through lens makes known a fate.
Logic of sight vs. sigh: breath opens into atmosphere

whereas vision structures mouths as targets, coordinates
how many bodies of one population equal another and

how much light it takes to unmake a face, to pin its shadow
against the wall against which a whole body once leaned

perhaps pausing to light a cigarette or greet a friend
perhaps shielding eyes from the early morning glare.

* * *

To minimize outrage, radiation can be measured according to the Banana Equivalent Dose
(BED), which renders everything in terms of potassium, a radioactive isotope
living inside America’s favorite fruit. Fukushima fallout in this case = 6.48 trillion bananas
which, according to thebananapolice.com, would take the world sixty-five years to consume.

BED does not specify whether the fruit is matured inside a cloud of chlorpyrifos

that condenses into rain in a plastic cocoon (inside which the bunch ripens skyward
like a hand grasping for god that finds instead something more eternal and disposable
the contradiction of want more a gesture than condition) though it likely assumes
an organic baseline given the tendency of neurotoxins to disrupt equivalence

a phenomenon that has been proven on the cerebral cortexes of children living

near plantations, whose parents apply the chemicals by hand and perceive risk
according to the degree to which they are compelled toward living to work to live.
When surveyed, mothers and fathers varied in their practices surrounding pesticides
and children. Such as: whether to call them home before aerial sprays commenced

as even within the house within the womb studies have shown seepage is likely

seeds dormant until puberty, when the body wants to emerge from itself into someone else
shed the habit of caution that keeps the pulse steady and breathing unerratic, to cultivate
its symptoms of longing instead of a condition proven by rats to be irreversible
despite the brain’s capacity for forgiveness, for smudging the dark matter of memory illegible

as the future read through one species underwrites the death of another.

* * *

The measure is not whether skin is peeled in strips or vaporized in silence.
Whether what ripens in darkness can be managed. The measure is

not calculated by whether tomorrow is today’s counterweight, equilibrium
a vestige of geocentric models. The measure is what compels hands

to stack in ship or bus or plane this cargo to be carried around a world
around which celestial spheres once circled with a cause for every motion

meaning a certain alignment of heavenly bodies that held the secret
future of light, the angle at which it would one day strike to make of bodies

shadows without shade, flash inverting flesh into a mask without a face.


In the uncene, everything
that will have been is
already given. Incl.
frontier fantasies, fetishes
and the religions that
mastered them. Incl.
zones of exclusion
and the institutions
who loved them. Incl.
the pretense of inclusion
and the potential for un
earthing a stratigraphic form
ula for history and its accidents.
(There will have been only depth
left. No surface to speak with
or against which to gauge
the injection well’s slurry.)

There will have been fissures
and fractures, ghosts gumming
sarcophagi with a tenderness
already unknown. There will
have been neither post nor un
dulating sympathies to mask
the dead who were already
never seen, no space left
to hold something like an eye
which would have been filled
by what will have covered every
thing, incl. the wings of creatures
of air and the surface of the sea.
Incl. redemption stories and the new
worlds they suggested, casually, as we
once did, as we will have done again
and again as if we hadn’t already
seen what we would make of them.

Chain Reaction

A chain can wind & unbind, burn & make. Energy can
come as warmth or warning, half-lives becoming more
or less like their origin like something green made red
behind the lids that want to open in spite of.

What use, this love, my tendril nerve that opens by will
not instinct. Some prosthetic longing made for a world of edges.
Some desire for shape and circumference after all that fire. 

Memory of mineral residue from a world rendered utterly.
My eye’s emotion no longer deposits its crust, salt lick
I once offered in the dew damp grass to some doe
who tongued every tender place in the dark pine morning.


Kristin George Bagdanov

Kristin George Bagdanov earned her MFA from Colorado State University and is currently a PhD candidate in English literature at University of California, Davis. She had two books of poetry published this year: Fossils in the Making (Black Ocean) and Diurne (Tupelo Press). kristingeorgebagdanov.com 


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