Windmills

Snow white windmills turn lazily on

the mountain top, typically blocked by haze.

Mountains form a giant sloping bowl.

Some people call it nuclear soup

others say we are protected by a bubble, radioactive.

Go to Hill Top when the sun goes down, where Joey’s vigil took place.

There the city’s lights outshine the stars above.

A forgotten city amongst the trees, tucked

down in the mountains.

The city’s borders never move an inch.




This poem is excerpted from “The Manhattan Project,” a chapbook manuscript depicting the locale and history of Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Known as “The City Behind the Fence” and “The Secret City,” Oak Ridge was the home of the atomic bomb and about 30,000 citizens of multigenerational families: a city laid in the shadow of the horrific events from World War II. Using found information, reference material, and personal narrative, the poems from this manuscript have been constructed to detail the city’s history, mystery and cynicism. The speaker’s voice is the voice of the city.

The City Behind the Fence

It was born out of war, raised in secrecy,

and known for destruction.

Before the war Cherokee hunted here,

locals listen to the ravings of John Hendrix

spinning tales of massive white lily buildings.

28 years later he was right. The City

Behind the Fence grew silent and selective. 

Guard post relics still stand on the city’s edge

where locals park to hike the trails.

World War II has ended, and we are forgotten

to all, but rowers.

Muscles taut pulling oars through

glassy green waters of Melton

Hill. Dip a line in and test your luck.

 Known for the smoothest 

water in the world. A spring bubbles

under foot feeding the outdoor pool.

Take the boat out and travel the 42

mile Clinch River. 

 Don’t like water?

There’s always disc-golf, regular golf, 

perhaps tennis. If not, there is always

biking and hiking right up through Pine Ridge.

They say the land is left untouched to preserve its beauty. 

Word of advice don’t go to the lake when they’ve released the Dam.




This poem is excerpted from “The Manhattan Project,” a chapbook manuscript depicting the locale and history of Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Known as “The City Behind the Fence” and “The Secret City,” Oak Ridge was the home of the atomic bomb and about 30,000 citizens of multigenerational families: a city laid in the shadow of the horrific events from World War II. Using found information, reference material, and personal narrative, the poems from this manuscript have been constructed to detail the city’s history, mystery and cynicism. The speaker’s voice is the voice of the city.

Ridge

Rusted barbwire as tall as a man

by some nameless government road

where a deer’s body has no time to cool.

Buildings hidden within the tree line

with faceless researchers who know so much

they know nothing.

Ghostly soldiers watch with phantom eyes,

weapons snug against their person.

There was a sickness within the borders

created to hold in 

the city’s truths.  

Conspiracies spoken by the raving masses. 

Don’t eat the fish you pull from the water.




This poem is excerpted from “The Manhattan Project,” a chapbook manuscript depicting the locale and history of Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Known as “The City Behind the Fence” and “The Secret City,” Oak Ridge was the home of the atomic bomb and about 30,000 citizens of multigenerational families: a city laid in the shadow of the horrific events from World War II. Using found information, reference material, and personal narrative, the poems from this manuscript have been constructed to detail the city’s history, mystery and cynicism. The speaker’s voice is the voice of the city.

ADHD

“How’d he do? Is he ready for fifth grade? I can try—”

“Your son shows symptoms of ADHD.” The doctor pressed the palms of his vein- straddled hands into the arms of his mobile computer chair and lifted his eye level too high for Jack’s mother to comfortably look at him; instead, she kept her eyes on the small notebook he began to scribble on. He wrote for three or four seconds before tearing out the slip of paper and routinely extending it to Jack’s mother, who cradled the prescription in her trembling palms. “Get this filled and give one to Jack every six hours.”

“And these’ll really help him?”

“They’ve helped all of my other ADHD patients.” The doctor twisted the door knob, but kept the door closed until he finished speaking. “I’m sure Jack won’t be an exception.” He grinned and escorted Jack and his mother into the artificially-lit hallways and along the waxed tiles, which were scattered with black streaks that the janitors couldn’t buff out. Jack hopped diagonally on the teal-and-burgundy checkerboards that skipped a space every five feet until they reached the automatic doors at the main entrance.

“You really should keep an eye on how he’s developing.” The doctor commented after noticing Jack’s interest in the ambulance parked on the outside walkway. “This is one of the more severe cases I’ve dealt with.” He raised an eyebrow at Jack’s mom, then strode back to his office.

Jack’s mother wept into her lap on the interstate ride home while Jack fondled the straps around his shoulders that locked him into his car seat. Neither spoke until they neared a McDonald’s and Jack screamed for a Happy Meal. Jack’s mother passed the restaurant, sweeping her thumbs across her bottom eyelashes as she parked in the handicapped space a few feet from the front of the Walgreens walk-in pharmacy.

Jack ducked between the smears on the windshield to see his mom trot through aisles of pretzels and artificially-flavored hard candy to the back of the store. She finally turned the corner a few minutes later with a bag of amphetamines and the same set of pink, irritated eyes that he had noticed all day. When she approached the cashier with a single bottle of Dasani, he convinced himself that he was a minute’s distance away from treatment. Jack’s mom left the store and approached their car. She skipped the driver’s seat and unlocked the door behind it instead. Once the car door was opened, she unfolded Jack’s door and propped it open with her hip.

“You let me know if these start making you feel dizzy, okay?” Her two longest fingers were lodged into the pharmacy’s half-transparent pill container. She unveiled a blue oval, engraved with the numbers “672” and stuffed with the stimulants that would cure Jack. She softly instructed him to hold a mouthful of water so he could take his medicine, and Jack swallowed his first dose. He was talkative on their way home, pointing out flocks of birds and glossy muscle cars until he began to frantically mumble through his ABCs and curl himself up so he’d be looser in his car seat’s straps.

Jack didn’t blink until he felt gravel bouncing off the tires. He recognized the crunch of his own driveway and leaned his head back, knowing he would have about forty more seconds of closed eyes.

After less than a minute of sleep, Jack’s mother startled him to consciousness, placing a flat palm on his buckling knee and forcing him to twitch and flail his lanky, fourth-grader limbs until he was awake enough to realize he was still alive. His face lost all color.

“You alright, honey?”

“Yeah.” Jack’s pupils dilated. He rubbed circles into his closed eyelids while his face recovered its natural coloring over the stray freckles. He paused until his mom finished unbuckling all three straps, then blurted, “I had a weird dream.” She swept her hand from his knee into the thin, lemonade-tinted hairs above his neck, opening her mouth and breathing out a single syllable, then closing it to abandon the thought.

“Let’s go inside.” His mother’s voice was nearly a whisper. A humid palm along the curve of his back guided Jack as he leapt across the pavement and up the patio’s waterlogged, three-stair set until his mom needed her fingers back to grab the keys. Once inside, both quickly took their night’s final torpid steps by their beds.

Jack was yelling and playing with Hot Wheels as soon as the young salmon sun crept over the barely-visible hills miles away. Miniature fire trucks, plastic T-Rex figurines, and most of Jack’s other toys were dumped below the TV so that they were easily accessible during the early-morning airings of Bob the Builder. Both his toys and the television eventually bored Jack, so he sprinted to the end of the hallway, exploding through the back wall’s lone door and springing into his mother’s cream-colored bed sheets.

“It’s my only day off this week–get out of my bed!” Jack’s mom caterwauled before she whitened her knuckles and clamped the length of her fingers around his bicep. Jack’s fingers pried at his mom’s as she forced his steps toward his half-as-big bed.

“You obviously need more medicine.” She growled, pouring two blue pills into the dry wrinkles of her palm. Jack swallowed them with his eyes positioned on the space between his mom’s bare feet, then spread out his body in accordance to the bed’s springs.

“Don’t ever let me catch you out of bed when you know you shouldn’t be. Now go back to sleep, it’s five in the morning.” Jack was too intimidated to leave his bed again, so he lay with brief thoughts until his mind created the first images of a dream.

His body welcomed the euphoric floating and the lopsided waves on every blurred image stuck in the beginning stages of manifestation. He squinted into the indistinct haze and fixed his detections on tilted rectangles and rotating spheres crafted of distorted blurs and scattered shadows, attempting to make them clear. The furthest hidden nerves of Jack’s eyes were pinched as he unwillingly noticed each shape sharpen its resolution, then flash and unfocus. Closed eyes were identically painful. Hand-covered eyes, too. He panicked and filled his lungs so he could exhale a full scream.

Jack’s eyelids parted as he released his breath. He first lifted his face from his pillow before he peeled his stomach from the Spiderman bed sheets he was sweat-glued to. Jack couldn’t tell if the outside sun’s mellow orange casted an early morning or a late evening glow, so he figured it best to leave his mom alone.

Over the next month, Jack’s dreams–and his every-six-hour pill–continued. He’d sit upright when the moon circled around to avoid any more painfully thought-up lights, or any dreams at all. Jack was now days without sleep, too many for him to force another eight-hour stare at the dark-spotted craters on the moon until it went down.

Jack was five hours into the night’s final dose, and the 2:00 A.M. moon mocked him again, daring him to let its drowsiness into his already-shaken vision. Jack rose to his feet and faced his door, his toy box–anything other than the taunting moon. He ran in fear of its call until he twisted his mom’s silver-coated door knob and saw “3:07” painted in lights across the face of her alarm clock.

Jack realized that this was his fault. He was the reason his mom pinned his shoulders and hips to her bed while she poured a large, random amount of Jack’s pills on her nightstand. He knew his bed was much safer than hers when it was 3:00 A.M. and she had work the next day. He regretted ever leaving his bed, ever letting his teacher, Mrs. Bates, convince his mom he was more challenged than any of the others in his class. There was no struggle from Jack after these moments of guilt. The pile of pills and the inevitably intolerable light shows to follow became more desirable now that he couldn’t move.

“I told you I’d better not catch you out of bed again, or I’d give you more medicine. Did you think I was lying, Jack?” She eyed his trembling lips, then secured her clenched grip on his red wrists before attempting to unfasten his mouth with her fingers. Jack struggled as long as his tired body allowed him to. His jaw muscles fell limp long enough for his mom to sweep the pills into her hand. She dumped a constant stream of water into his mouth, shoveled in the pills all at once, then forced his mouth and nose holes closed. After Jack finally swallowed the soggy capsules, his mom roughly wiped away the splashes of water that missed his mouth. She dragged him to his open door and tossed his weakened body into its frame, then speed-walked back down the hallway. Jack rolled onto his stomach and placed his forehead and flat palms along the floor, making a final stretch for his blankets and pillows before realizing his arms were too short. But he was still grateful that he couldn’t see the moon from the floor. His eyes became a rapid flutter, and he allowed his mind to follow the final dream’s intentions.

Jack’s thoughts drained themselves shallow, until they weren’t worth what it took to remember them.

Wherever the Cherubim Stay

Only the comfort of a plastic-cord labyrinth connects you to me. Electrons move back and forth on a landing strip, assisting a machine which forces your lungs to fill and deflate. Filling and deflating with sterile oxygen from flimsy tubes, only the pale skin around your lips, nose, and eyes are exposed as wrappings hide the rest of your frame.  Hours trench on and my gaze can’t be lifted from the monitor, listing an entanglement of numbers. Numbers that are the only evidence of any part of you left in there. The smell of charred flesh still spins in the room, curling up into the air, imitating the smoke from that morning. I tried to run in. I tried to be that parent that lifts cars and moves heaven over earth to save their babies. Men dressed in garments I had only ever seen on television ripped me away before I could get to you. The whole world was caving in on me at the thought of leaving you in there. They pulled you out and words raced by me in a whirlwind… “alive’… “third-degree” … “miracle…”

Ominous beeps from the machines bring me back to reality. Machines, engineered to keep people alive, operated by nurses and doctors with the qualifications to keep people alive. Even when nature clearly ushered you to kiss the face of death… machines keep beeping in equidistant pulses.  

Where did you go? Are you trapped in some sort of life-and-death purgatory? Religion was always a fictitious facade to me until now, as the sheer thought of you being thrown into oblivion with one arbitrary stroke of lightning brings me to my knees. Nurses shuffle back and forth to different rooms, each adorned with scrubs ironically decorated with puppies, kittens, and the occasional rainbow. Eleanor, your precious nurse who is somewhere between the I-have-adult-children and I-have-multiple-grandkids age, fashions scrubs with an assortment of cherubim, riding on clouds and wearing golden halos. I shake off my wondering thoughts with a quick jolt. There’s no way that you’ve already left me and gone wherever the cherubim stay. You’re still my little girl. You’re still in there. Somewhere.

A Letter to my Father

What about those times we spent together?
Or about those cheap promises you made?
I didn’t know it then, but I know it now –
Your version of truth was never sound.
What happened to playing and wrestling around,
Throwing me in the air,
Or pushing the swing?
What happened to the effort of just being there?
Why did you leave?
Why did you make me grow up by myself?
All the things boys learn from their fathers
I had to learn alone.
I still have scars on my face
From when I taught myself to shave.
Relearning how to put on my belt
Because, for years, I had been doing it the wrong way.
It’s things like this
I wonder if you even think about?

NOVUS Literary and Arts Journal
Lebanon, TN