from less than one, more than one

by Jen Hofer

more than none, none between—immeasurably gray—more
vaporous masses massing—heat rising, disbursements off the
asphalt—diminishments returning, or half-lives vine-like
—plumage, flares, warming—warning signs—visage—unseen
between the clouds——clouds unseen

The accident is not over.
—Helen Caldicott

IT TAKES A WHILE BEFORE YOU CAN STEP OVER
INERT BODIES AND GO AHEAD WITH WHAT YOU
WERE TRYING TO DO.
—Jenny Holzer

The trouble with you is you want a simple answer. But
there isn’t any. The war started when people accepted
the idiotic principle that peace could be maintained by
arranging to defend themselves with weapons they
couldn’t possibly use without committing suicide.
Everybody had an atomic bomb, and counter-bombs, and
counter-counter bombs.
The devices outgrew us—we couldn’t control them!
On The Beach, 1959

You can blow people to bits with bombs, you can shoot
them with shells, you can atomize them with atomic
bombs, but the same people think there’s something
terrible about poisoning the air and letting people
breathe it. Anything having to do with gas warfare,
chemical warfare, has this taint of horror on it, even
if you only make people vomit.
—Dr. Laurence Layton, Chief of the Chemical Warfare
Division, early 1950s

When they put us on that old Army bus and took us out
past Saltair and down Skull Valley, I was convinced it
was the end of the world . . . The NCO that met us at
the main gate said: “We don’t worry about you going
AWOL, we just watch you walk away for three days and
then go out and pick you up.”
—U.S. Army Veteran Jerry Reed, Dugway Proving Ground
worker starting in 1959

There isn’t time. No time to love. Nothing to remember.
Nothing worth remembering.
On The Beach, 1959

Prepare to surface.
Give it to me straight.
Prepare to surface.
Just give it to me straight.
Depth 58 feet.
How much longer?
Depth 58 feet, sir.
How much longer?
Sonar, any contacts topside?
Any contacts?
No contacts, sir.
 

no contacts
not much longer
no contacts, no time, no signal,
uninformed consent, air corridors, waterways, tunnels
under the desert floor or wind channels vectoring off
wingtips, no formula nor formal measurement tactic,
strategic
invisibility tunneling, accidental exposure, tanks ready
to surface, no awareness or sudden awareness or sudden
death, surfacing more slowly, more pervasively,
penetrating
force not accidental, decided, debts accidentally
detonated
or creeping dose entering the space between molecules
accidentally which is purposeless motion, electron
detachment, impinging particles or waves in accidental
formation, conveyances or what we might have said, given
the chance, whispering at extremely low frequencies
undetected, but there was no chance unmeasured, no
signal tapped out, trapped in the rote groove, give it to
me
straight, wavelengths passing straight through the body
inevitably available as there is in this world no way not
to
expose the porous surface to accidental attachments
the invisible air everything but invisible, detachments
accidentally surface and beyond the surface
straight through to the air
 

surface surface surface
a sure thing, give it to me straight
lower main ballast
a silvery luster
lower main ballast forward
a silvery white luster
depth 4 5 feet sir
secure the air
tarnishes in dry air
open main induction
synthetic air
main induction open sir
ionization surfacing surfacing skimming
skid on the skin of consent to contract
or contaminate where coagulation rising
demarcates an accidental mutuality we
watched the moon rise and were obliged
to agree it was pretty, very pretty
on the rising surface topside just give it
to me straight in uncontaminated code
 

A: radiation accident
A-R: accident, nuclear reactor
A-NR: accident, naval reactor
A-PR: accident, power reactor
AC: criticality accident
AC-RR: criticality accident, research reactor
A-a: accelerator accident
A-d: accidental dispersal of radioactive material
A-i: accidental internal exposure to radioisotope
A-ir: irradiator accident
A-mr: medical radiotherapy accident
A-mx: medical x-ray accident
A-os: orphaned source accident
A-osd: accidental dispersal of orphaned source
A-rg: radiography accident
A-s: accidental exposure to source
A-x: x-ray accident
I-a: intentional exposure of individual (assault)
I-c: criminal act (unspecified)
I-s: intentional self-exposure
I-t: exposures resulting from theft of source
NT: nuclear weapon test
NW: combat use of nuclear weapon
A-R: accident, nuclear reactor
A-NR: accident, naval reactor
A-PR: accident, power reactor
AC: criticality accident
AC-RR: criticality accident, research reactor
A-a: accelerator accident
A-d: accidental dispersal of radioactive material
A-i: accidental internal exposure to radioisotope
A-ir: irradiator accident
A-mr: medical radiotherapy accident
A-mx: medical x-ray accident
A-os: orphaned source accident
A-osd: accidental dispersal of orphaned source
A-rg: radiography accident
A-s: accidental exposure to source
A-x: x-ray accident
I-a: intentional exposure of individual (assault)
I-c: criminal act (unspecified)
I-s: intentional self-exposure
I-t: exposures resulting from theft of source
NT: nuclear weapon test
NW: combat use of nuclear weapon
 

(And our scientists disagree as to when radiation will
reach our stream. The atomic war has ended but the
Prime Minister reports no proof of survival of human
life
anywhere except here.)
 

what we can
name                    in the absence

                                                        ——     of people

                we can imagine            —          ——

— reduction — pulverization — reaction —

                                           —in the absence            ——

                there are no people

                                                                        ——

                        — conversion — calcination — filtration —

                we cannot imagine

                                      ———                      no people

periscopically delimiting            naming

what we can see

                  — liquification — digestion — precipitation —

                                              overtakes

      the capacity                                  the absence

of people

abdominal pain, back pain, shoulder pain, neck pain,
birth
defects, blackouts, disorientation, bleeding, chest
problems, chest pain, diarrhea, dizziness, staggering,
dental problems, bleeding gums, fatigue, fever, hair
loss,
headaches, joint pain, memory loss, muscle pain,
weakness, spasms, tremors, nasal discharge, nausea,
vomiting, personality changes, rashes

what we can name
we can imagine
we can imagine
what we cannot see
we cannot imagine
we can name what
we cannot imagine

 

shortness of breath, skin problems, sleep disturbances,
trouble with vision, numbness, reproductive problems,
sensitivity to light, smell, noise, sores

 


a gray is a joule, radiation in measured
doses. there isn’t time. in measured doses
per kilogram of tissue. no time to love. energy
deposited, located, not particularly specific. nothing
to remember. not particularly specific until it is
specifically
eroded. nothing worth remembering. energy deposits
in the tissues. there is such a thing as too much
of a good thing. “a bomb is a bomb is a bomb,” the state
department specifies. the air is invisible. particularities
moving
toward stability. too much of a good thing. everything but
invisible.

“Why is it taking so long? Can you explain it to me? Nobody can
explain it to me. And don’t—don’t tell me about all those damn
winds again. How the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern
Hemisphere get all mixed up and overlap and—I don’t want
to hear about that anymore. All I want to know is, if everybody
was so smart, why didn’t they know what would happen?”
“They did.”
“Well I—I can’t take it. I—
Oh yes, I can take it. But it’s unfair. It’s unfair because I
didn’t do anything. And nobody I know did anything.”

agent orange, attacks on planes, bacillus anthracis,
bacillus subtilis, bacterophage, botulinum toxin,
brucella
melitensis, brucella suis, burned b-24 bomber with nerve
agent GB aboard, clostridium botulinum, coccidioides,
coccidioides uranine, coxiella burnetii, downwind
hazards
of M-55 destruction, firing arms filled with nerve agent
GB
at fortifications with caged animals inside, flare
pellets, fluorescent particles, fog oil, fumigatus,
8-inch
howitzer shells filled with nerve agent VX, landmines
filled with nerve agent VX, M-55 rockets filled with
nerve
agent VX, 155-mm shells filled with nerve agent VX,
mustard gas, napalm, pasteurella pestis, pasteurella
tularensis, white phosphorous, red phosphorous,
psittacosis, serratia marcescens, green smoke, red
smoke,
yellow smoke, violet smoke, tear gas, super tear gas,
undisclosed agents, unknown agents, uranine dye, wheat
rust spores, wheat stem rust

Just give it to me straight. How much longer?

moving toward stability what we can name without consent
we can imagine participated in the testing of gas masks
and clothing we can imagine while locked in a gas
chamber
what we cannot see and exposed to mustard gas and
lewisite
we cannot imagine the air invisible not allowed to leave
to imagine we can name the gas chamber we cannot imagine
became violently ill we cannot imagine how much longer

Just give it to me straight. How much longer?

the air invisible moving toward stability not allowed to
leave
the gas chamber what we can name became violently ill
we can imagine something was wrong we cannot see called
out
via an intercom we can imagine we can imagine requested
to be released from what we cannot see the gas chamber
we can name what we cannot imagine the reply was no
they had not completed the experiment the air invisible
very nauseous everything but invisible how much longer

Just give it to me straight. How much longer?

again requested to be released from the chamber
how much longer the air invisible again permission
was denied moving toward stability passed out
in the chamber we can name we can imagine what happened
after that i don’t know we can imagine i may only assume
what we cannot see when i was removed from the chamber
moving toward stability we can imagine it was presumed
i was already dead how much longer no one did anything
it was presumed i was already dead

what we cannot imagine                                           ———

                                                  overtakes

                the capacity                              the absence

of people

      what we cannot see

                                    we cannot see

                in the air                          which is everything but

      the objects contoured        contrails         capacities

                                                                       the people—

— crystallization — solidification — cold traps —

the people uncontained

                                    contaminated

      contained        ——

                                    contraindicated            —       —






                                                                       no people

                                                                       not outlined

which is everything but






                                                               ——— no people

the air is invisible.
it isn’t fair. the object
we can name overtakes
what we can imagine.
toward stability disintegrating.
we can imagine the object
we cannot see activated.
we cannot imagine
no one did anything
we can name deterministic
effects the fallout undetermined
we cannot imagine the effects we ingest

 

Sources

“Million to One,” Australian Story, Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Part One, March 12, 2007; Part Two, March 19, 2007. http://www.abc.net.au/austory/content/2007/s1870108.htm and http://www.abc.net.au/austory/content/2007/s1876734.htm

Marshall Brain and Robert Lamb, “How Nuclear Power Works.” http://science.howstuffworks.com/nuclear-power.htm

William J. Broad, Stephen Engelberg, and Judith Miller, “U.S. Germ Warfare Research Pushes Treaty Limits,” The New York Times, September 4, 2001. http://online.sfsu.edu/~rone/GEessays/germtreatylimits.html

Cameco Port Hope Fuel Refining http://www.cameco.com/fuel_and_power/refining_and_conversion/port_hope/process/

Chemical Weapons Working Group, “Background Information on Chemical Weapons Stockpile Site and Operating Incinerator at Tooele, Utah.” http://www.cwwg.org/Utah.html

Staff Report Prepared for the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, U.S. Senate, “Is Military Research Hazardous to Veterans’ Health? Lessons Spanning Half A Century,” December 8, 1994. http://www.gulfweb.org/bigdoc/rockrep.cfm#dugway

“What else we were growing up with in the 60’s?” Ask Trapper at Curezone.com. http://www.curezone.com/forums/fmp.asp?i=1398231

“At A Glance: Weapons Testing Trends and Totals,” Deseret News, December 22, 1994. http://web.archive.org/web/20080125180137/www.project-112shad-fdn.com/Background_Test+Trends.htm

Dugway Proving Ground Survivors Page, “A List of Chemical, Biological and Smoke Compounds Released in the Open Atmosphere at Dugway (1942-1995)” http://www.project-112shad-fdn.com/ or www.dugway.net

“If You Love This Planet,” A Weekly Radio Show with Dr. Helen Caldicott. http://www.ifyoulovethisplanet.org

Mary Olson, “On Nuclear-Power Radiation’s Enormous Threat to Public Health.”
http://ifyoulovethisplanet.org/audio/IYLTP%20-%20Ep%2032.mp3

Johnston’s Archive http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/index.html

Stephen Speckman, “Dugway’s Secret Tests: Vets Link Health Problems to Chemical Exposure,” Deseret News, December 28, 2008. http://www.deseretnews.com/article/1,5143,705273187,00.html?pg=4

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Americium
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deseret_Test_Center
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dugway_Proving_Ground
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiation_poisoning

 

—Jen Hofer is a Los Angeles-based poet, translator, social justice interpreter, teacher, knitter, bookmaker, public letter-writer, urban cyclist, and co-founder of the language-justice and literary-activism collaborative Antena. Her latest translations include the homemade chapbook En las maravillas/In Wonder (Libros Antena/Antena Books, 2012) and Ivory Black, a translation of Negro marfil by Myriam Moscona (Les Figues Press 2011). Her recent and forthcoming books are available from a range of small presses, including Action Books, Atelos, Dusie Books, Insert Press, Kenning Editions, Les Figues Press, Litmus Press, Palm Press, and Subpress. She teaches poetics, translation, and bookmaking at CalArts and Otis College.

Tags:
War
Experimental poetry
BOMB 124
Summer 2013
The cover of BOMB 124
Share