Clear Skies

September 12, 2001

The day after, we drive the dogs to the park,
still unsure about the place of happiness
in our new world, but weary of predicting
where our bombs will fall first, sick of watching it
happen over and over on every channel.
The dogs break the silence in an empty field
just beginning to green from September rain.
The evening sky is clear of contrails, a gull
the only wings aloft over the lake. I hate
myself for thinking this is beautiful.

Waiting for Work to Begin

When I feel the rain fall again, I’ll know
to begin this ten-fingered dance.

Its ragged edges and rough sounds
catch the water and collect its story —

from sky to peak, through wood and moss,
off asphalt, boulders, steel. I’ll hear the patter

of rain on the earth above, crawl forth
and speak of the small things I see.

Mud and leaves, wet stones, moist bark.
I’ve waited too long. Now my work begins.

Cathedrals

They stand black against the white bluffs
     rising beyond the river, monuments
          to miracles we performed
in their deep blue pools. Atoms flashed
     apart. Wonders appeared
          over cities in a distant land.

Their purpose complete, we encase them
     in stone. If you follow this road
          due north, you’ll find
the old school facing the water. Tumbleweeds
     flit by its empty windows like neutrons
          dancing toward their new life.

Wind and soldiers have taken the wood
     from homes left behind
          to make way for all this science.
Submarines rust in pits.
     The salmon don’t run. There are no
          signs to explain what this place means.

That shimmer you feel on the wind,
     the way the ground sometimes shudders —
          the power we achieved
in those black buildings hangs in the air
     and lingers in the soil. Out there on the horizon,
          they will remain when all of us are gone.

Read about the experience that created this poem in “Stuck in a Hanford reactor building elevator.”

Renovating Building 112

Workmen are remodeling our office.
     They gather by the dozen
          to eat breakfast – sock caps low
over foreheads, face masks slung
     around necks. One tells a joke
          I can’t hear, and their laughter
rumbles over plastic chairs, cash registers,
     condiments, the salad bar.
          From my corner booth I can see
cranes that tower over evergreens
          marked with bright pink ribbons
               for the chainsaw. I look back
and they’re gone – nothing left
     but napkins stacked neatly
          on the center of the table.

I wrote this poem almost exactly four years ago, when I frequently stopped for coffee or breakfast in a Microsoft building between my bus stop and my own building. My product group has moved to another satellite campus since then, but I was back in Building 112 this morning for a meeting and overheard a team of corporate movers swapping stories about their accident-prone supervisor. I finished my coffee, looked up, and they were gone. I immediately thought of this poem.

I owe the poem’s current form and other improvements to feedback from David Wagoner while he was the Poet in Residence at Richard Hugo House.