“Radioactive decay is the set of various processes by which unstable atomic nuclei (nuclides) emit subatomic particles. Decay is said to occur in the parent nucleus and produce a daughter nucleus.”

Allegory made easy, our story foreshadowed by science:
another nuclear family, destined for disintegration.

But we want to be special, don’t we? We want
to believe in the mercurial majesty of our own

destruction. Even now, all these miles away,
I take refuge in cool subjunctive caves:

If only I believed more avidly in God…
If only I had kept the Fourth Commandment…

My mother had a plan. She asked me to stay at home
till I was thirty, live in her basement, borrow her car.

I could take the bus to school in the University District,
complete my Ph.D. without the desperate quest

for money, without accumulating a single pint of debt.
My father agreed. It only made sense. And then,

by his emphatic decree, I would be married, and a down
payment would be waiting for me on a three-

bedroom brick rambler in their water-view community—
close by, so they could always watch the children.

That birthright was wealth and security, secret sex and
cigarettes stubbed out beneath the wide camellia tree

that obscured my bedroom window all those years.
It was my mother screaming, for reasons unbeknownst

to science, my father pledging his fleeting remedy:
Whatever you want, Linda. Whatever you need.

So we come back again to the detritus, the cells
of appeasing and displeasing sloughing off my skin

until I could see the inorganic mannequin of their
worst intentions, waxing a woman I could not become.

My father said: “You’re killing your mother.”
My mother said: “Listen to your father.”

But I had a sundial and a strong intuition and
that sinking-ship feeling that shook me clean

to my soles. We were headed for a capsize,
my family and I, evoking hard words like asunder

and adrift. “Are you trying to be an outcast?”
my mother asked, which only begged the question:

cast out of what? A house of order—built on
stilts, perched in sand? Secret society of

private misgivings and public thanksgivings?
There’s what we say, and what we do,

then there’s what we breathe: whole climate
committed to asphyxiation, slow

incineration of a last honest wish,
final non-bureaucrat’s desire.

I can hold my breath a long time under water,
my swimmer’s lungs primed for intervals

of deep submersion. But I can’t open my eyes.
It’s a problem of underworld survival,

learning the way of touch, calculated kinesthesia
through a wilderness of stray sounds, refracted

lights. Here beneath the surface of things,
where the floating debris cannot reach me,

I still feel tremors of earth, booming voices,
and the searchlight probing these depths.
East of the City

for Angie

What I have tried           so often
                not to say

leavens the earth, uneasy



the blue fissure-flowers
                  bent on light

petals unscroll blank &
                                dainty faces

Remember the note you pushed under the door?

                                           red margin-lines

                                           a ripped corner

Tell me again about the dark eyes
                                                           of the one who sees you most clearly

And the windows painted shut
              against persistence,

     named as they are after wind
                                                                   Wind what? Wind whispers, occasionally

Nothing conclusive;

swiveling moon,
                           thumbprint in dust;
                                                       but under your pillow I place them:

                                                       these ducats—                               these feathers from a
                                                                                                               coiled tongue.

Julie Marie Wade
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