Plume: On the Emotional Impact of Hanford



— Thomas Jerry Deen, 1929-1988

On the morning I got plucked out of third grade
by Principal Wellman because I’d written on command
an impassioned letter for the life of our nuclear plants
that the government threatened to shut down
and I put on my rabbit-trimmed green plaid coat
because it was cold and I’d be on the televised news
overseeing delivery of several hundred pounds of mail
onto an airplane bound for Washington DC addressed
to President Nixon who obviously didn’t care about your job
at the same time inside your marrow
blood cells began to err one moment efficient the next
a few gone wrong stunned by exposure to radiation
as you milled uranium into slugs or swabbed down
train cars or reported to B Reactor for a quick run-in-
run-out and by that morning Mr. Deen
the poisoning of your blood had already begun”

—Kathleen Flenniken, Plume

There are many books out there about Hanford. Like the site itself, the books can be complex, arduous reads that take a certain degree of dedication to get through. As someone who is new to Hanford issues, I find learning about the site to be fascinating but a bit of a slog at times because of the immensity of the project and cleanup.

Kathleen Flenniken’s Plume, a Washington State Book Award winner, is an amazing compilation of poems on Hanford that is distinctly different from other Hanford literature. More than any other text I’ve encountered, Plume grapples with the very personal effects felt by the families of Hanford workers. Flenniken herself is a second generation Hanford worker whose father worked at the site in the age of weapon production.

Flenniken’s book also beautifully paints images of the desert landscape of Eastern Washington. Her depictions of the flora and fauna that inhabit the site and surrounding areas make a profound statement about the need to mitigate the impact that Hanford has had on the ecosystem.

If you are looking for a different kind of introduction to Hanford, I highly recommend this amazing book of poetry. It is available here through Amazon.

By: Emily Bays


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