After the radioactive dust settles

Keri Withington


It won’t be pretty when I die.


It will be long, and drawn out, painful, and I won’t have medicine to treat it. I know this and, I suppose, expect it. Before, when there were things to consult–like Google and doctors–it would probably have been called cancer. Before, there were treatments. The before-time when people lived. We still have the words, but not the things themselves. Vaccines. Hospital. Chemo. They taste fizzy in the mouth, like Tyrannosaurus Rex. Hula Hoop. Netflix.


Now we just call it the wasting.


It takes longer for some of us than others, but it will get us all eventually.


There’s radiation, I’m sure of it. There were so many bombs: I don’t know what kind. It

happened so fast once the media was gone, the power-grid compromised.


Oak Ridge, I hear, is just a smoldering pit between the mountains. Birds won’t even fly over it, they say. I never went back to look for my house. I don’t need to see its absence to feel

that it’s gone.


We have all been exposed.


If I live long enough, which can’t be taken for granted anymore, it will catch up with me:

I will waste into nothing, bones on barren ground.


I used to think about these things.

I used to carry books with me like talismans and hoard knowledge like food.


I don’t think anymore.

I survive.



Keri Withington is a poet, educator, and aspiring homesteader. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, recently including anthologies from White Stag Publishing. She has published two chapbooks: Constellations of Freckles (Dancing Girl Press) and Beckoning from the Waves (Plan B Press). Withington lives with her husband, three children, and four fur babies in the Appalachian foothills. You can find her teaching for Pellissippi State, planting in her yard, or on FB (@KeriWithingtonWriter).