Caesium 137

Jeremy Paden

Leide, let us sing your dirge.
Death comes wrapped,

sometimes, in a lead tube.
Inside it’s shiny and blue.

And on the table and floor,
on your hands and lips as you play,

on the eggs and toast you eat,
it glows. It glows and burns

a cross on your uncle’s chest,
a hole in your cousin’s thigh.

When the thermometer broke,
my dad, a doctor, let us

play with that silver puddle.
We shattered the world

with our index finger,
then watched it coalesce.

Ten minutes, then off
to the sink to wash.

Two times, three times,
he was most insistent.

What would your father
have known, wanting only

to fashion a ring
for your mother,

of half-lives and gamma rays,
of radiation?

His perfect gift,
blistering your mouth and throat.


In mid September 1987 in Goiânia, Brazil, the worst radioactive accident to date in Latin America unfolded over several weeks. On September 13 two scrap hunters entered into an abandoned and partly demolished clinic where they came across a radiotherapy device which they took and sold to a local junk-man. He, his brother, and many other family members and neighbors thought the blue glow, possibly Cherenkov radiation, evidence of the metal’s supernatural and mystical powers. Four people died within a matter of weeks due to radiation poisoning. One of these was Leide das Neves Fereira, the six year-old daughter of the junk-man’s brother.

Paden photo

Jeremy Paden is the author of the chapbook Broken Tulips (Accents Publishing, 2013). His poems have appeared in Adirondack Review, Atlanta Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, California Quarterly, Cortland Review, Louisville Review, Naugatuck River Review, Rattle, and other journals and anthologies. His translations of poems from the Spanish have appeared in Words Without Borders and Still: The Journal. He teaches Spanish and Latin American literature at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky.


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