Nancy Dickeman

Nuclear Reservation


Driving past security my father tipped
his hat at the guard
who waved him on. The badge
on my father’s chest worn
not to name authority but
to measure exposure, the point
at which his daily risk

might trip him up. When he drove the hills
toward home the desert turned
under him, sage and sand
ground to dust, rocks overtaken by a violet glow.
All the while minerals
touched us, particulates
combing the air and marking us

invisibly changed. In the dust storm
the desert stuck to me like silt, a line
drawn around my mouth and nose.
His back to me, his face
pressed into the receiver
my father said the guards had orders
to shoot to kill. What they held

behind them was a question
of life and death:
the rods delicately working
at the purist’s calculations and the tower
casting itself clean across the river, ore
reduced to powder, a golden substance
diffusible as breath.

“Nuclear Reservation” originally appeared in Particles on the Wall.  

Nancy Dickeman grew up in Richland and is a co-founder and co-curator of Particles on the Wall, a multidisciplinary exhibit exploring Hanford history and nuclear issues. Nancy’s poems have appeared in Poetry Northwest, The Seattle Review, River City, the anthology March Hares: The Best of Fine Madness, and in other publications. Her essays appear in The Seattle PI, Common Dreams and OCEAN Magazine. She has recently completed her first novel manuscript, Green Run, White Train. Nancy holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Washington.