My Hometown is a Trashfire

Kira Gresoski, 2019


Women in my hometown are trying to make it out with Tupperware

parties, weight loss/hair growth vitamins & supplements, & Mary Kay.

I don’t accept the Facebook invites. When a high school enemy’s

little sister, a shy girl who never spoke to me, sends me a message

eight years after graduation to tell me about her exciting offer, I say

I don’t really wear make-up. Okay, but skin care, she replies, & I log off.

People in this town are suckers for one-way tickets away from here.

Hitch their carts to the shooting stars of being your own boss. For the men,

it’s usually meth or a metal band or poems about God at the open mic.

They see through the matrix. They know the world’s deepest ways.

Deep within our world, in the armpit of our town, a landfill belches

up chains of smoke, & when they unfurl in the wind, they carry

all throughout our village flecks of radioactive waste. WestLake

Landfill is an unmarked burial ground to the atom bomb, runoff from

Mallinckrodt’s uranium production decaying into a cancer cocktail.

One summer, I pour drinks, & a schoolteacher tells me she’s stealing

just one hour, because it’s been two years since her teenage son was

diagnosed with Stage 4 lymphoma, & now she has to quit her job

so she can give care full time, gently nursing him toward a dignified death.

The seeds of illness have been germinating for decades. A grandma lived

near the landfill for thirty years, tending the backyard garden each season,

canning the fruits of her labor into sauces & jams, no idea that the amount

of hazardous waste in her dirt was two hundred times the EPA’s safe limits.

Can you imagine? Thinking you’re giving your grandchildren the gift of love

and homemade tomato sauce, but you’re feeding them the ghosts of all the people

we once destroyed in an instant, now haunting your bloodline’s genetics for generations?

Of course you can imagine. Like us, you’d dream of breaking out, scaling pyramids

to the top. This won’t surprise you, but the atom bomb aftermath was dumped in secret.

No one knew it was there until the stench of rotten eggs punctuated the morning

traffic. Republic Services, owner of the landfill, says the waste is contained,

even as an underground fire licks its forked tongue toward the breathable,

mutable death. You may not believe this, but five years before the secret

was made airborne and widespread, I wrote about the atom bomb incessantly.

Walking my hometown streets - the ranch homes, vacant storefronts, dilapidated

mechanic shops, and pumping chains of swings at the park - all sang to me:

How many front porches disintegrated in a split second? When death curls

around an entire city that quickly, what sound does it make? I’d go home,

buzzing in my atoms, try to write it all down. At least, believe this much:

I love the people who live here, even if I won’t put myself out of pocket

for their big dreams of getting out. I’ve always thought we were more

than just hardscrabble people, thought there was something superhuman

in our ability to forge a life against the slowburn death of apathy & industry.

I will always honor us, us commoners with a rare kind of love.

Call it contagious, call it radioactive, call it inhaling all the dead at once.