The news of the false missile warning in Hawaii took me back to my youth. I remember a Health class in early high school that had a chapter on surviving a nuclear blast. Even then, I remember thinking, really? really?
Right now I'm working on a poem that imagines a blast site far away and the preparations that we would take on the southeast coast of Florida to protect against wind-borne radiation. My favorite part so far involves moving the chickens into the front bedroom: free range, but with a very limited range.
I'm thinking of a poem that I wrote long ago when I thought the cold war might really be over, in the early years of this century, when I thought I might have prepared for the wrong apocalypse. But now I'm wishing I could remember more of what I once knew about how to protect against radiation.
The basic lesson: if a blast happens, most of us won't be incinerated immediately, and we should stay put. Don't go outside if a nuclear event is near or even far away. If you go outside, take a shower.
Here's the poem, which first appeared in The North American Review.
Basic Health for Everyday Life
My tenth grade health book included three pages on surviving
a nuclear blast. There, amidst the basic first aid
instructions, the material on bacteria and viruses, in the midst
of a host of innocuous information, a picture of a mushroom
cloud, suggestions for preparation. When class bored
me, I flipped to that section and planned my defense.
It’s best to have a basement, but barring that, the book suggested
a linen closet or a bathroom. Shield the eyes. Don’t look
at the flash of light. As the book suggested, I stashed
canned food in the basement, hiding them under
a stack of old ragged beach towels. Decades later, what must
my parents have thought when they packed up the house?
My nightly nuclear nightmares recede to occasional visitations now,
but I still keep stockpiles of canned goods in a basement cupboard.
When shopping for a car, I consider the electromagnetic pulse
of the initial blast and wonder if the car’s ignition would survive.
Even today, the roar of a low flying jet sends
my hands to my eyes, even though I know the futility
of fingers as a shield against radiation.
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