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Herb Parker Feels Like Dancing

óRichland, 1949

Mr. Parker's Sunbeam is shiny as an atom.
He pulls up, alights with grace
and makes his dance hall entrance.
Perhaps you sense his English accent
and pocket square. Women shy
like ponies to one corner. He corrals one
and trots her around the dance floor.

Herb Parker rides a shapely 4/4.
"That Old Black Magic,"
"Baby, It's Cold Outside."
Maybe it is, or maybe it's blazing,
unsafe to breathe tonight.

Her earrings are zircon daisies.
A silver belt rings her slim waist.
Herb Parker steers her toward
his dark place. "Mr. Parker?"
he hears somebody ask, like a tremble
on a seismograph, but you can't blame
Herbert Parker for his appetites.

He palms the tender center of
her back. "Mr. Parker?" again.
Perhaps it's her voice, or her husband's,
or one of the voices in his head. He's
a Dutch master with his finger in the dike,
a valvular, crepuscular figure.

"Look out the window at that storm ... "
He takes the government's calls
and negotiates those devil's bargains,
how much of their order can he fill?
You understand they say "product"
and mean plutonium, they mean
how many bombs can you afford to fuel?
"Darling, down and down I go,

round and round I go in a spin" ...
the river, and its sediments,
the air, capricious with winds,
the soil column, the ground water,
the vase of wildflowers on Deputy Chief
Gamertsfelder's desk! Native species
sprouting in Richland yards.
The mosquitoes, for pity's sake,
the farm animals, the farmers living
off the land, the water birds and the
duck hunters, the bottom fish and
the fishermen on Richland dock.
Everything he thinks to test ... good god,

the entire food chain contaminated.
He's basically a shy man with
immeasurable power. A sultan
coaxing his courtesan's smile.
She only shakes a little now.
Don't you understand? Someone
must step forward and play God.
How much better that the man
can lead? hold you tight
in his very good hands, and spin.

Kathleen Flenniken

University of Washington Press

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