for Kristen Iversen


Mushroom clouds would sprout against the Rockies

when one side finally pushed the button,

would vaporize the cities strung from Greeley

down to Pueblo, the state fairgrounds and mental ward,

and Cheyenne Mountain where generals dug in deep.

Outside our calf barn I would look across

the gravel road, over the neighbor’s pasture

with wild sunflower and prickly pear,

past the new steel bins a mile on,

the water tower and grain elevator in town,

imagine I could see across the state,

see how that line of fireballs would bloom.


How long would it take for fallout to reach

across the plains? Hours? A day?

Our weather came from the west.

The end could come before I ever learned

what the girls were keeping in their Levi’s,

before I could build a car to burn

the quarter-mile and get me out of there.

The Russians didn’t care about our cows,

but would have aimed their missiles closer yet

at Minuteman silos just an hour away,

clear squares of chainlinked ground in wheat fields

between nowhere and the Nebraska line.


The real danger even then was not

a Soviet strike. Doubled down to meet

demand, the warhead plant upwind of Denver

secretly burned plutonium into the night,

let drums of waste disintegrate outside

and contaminate the water supply.

All that after three states sacrificed

to fallout from desert bomb tests decades before.

What enemy could go unpunished

who did what our side did preventing war?

The end would come from our own hands

if missiles didn’t drop it from the sky.