Larissa Andrusyshyn

The Radium Girls

The trouble with girls is that you have to be one,
falling in an endless loop or grounded,
like a cement truck, spinning in place.

we still glow in the dark.

Harness lambent beams with camel hair,
among cure-alls and hayburners, we are held together
by our own gravity, like stars.
Wayward, we poke through the night.

We painted our nails and switched off the lights.

Watches with faces you can read in the trenches,
soldiers visible, drawn into enemy crosshairs.
Worry, for the infirmaries that smell of carbolic lotion and gangrene.
We gave them night vision, on pistol sights and switch plates.

Back home, we inhabit the bodies of glow-worms and anglerfish,
pretend at bioluminescence— mimicry and attraction.

We fill long tables in the factory, draw the numbers on the dials
and point brushes between our lips,
delicate as threading needles, no one keeps track of the hours.

We swallowed nebulas by the bottle,
one atom at a time.

They made a paint that flares without flame,
picture fireflies at the Orange reservoir,
their abdomens of Luciferin flickers— light-bringers.

They call it Undark, a bulb with no filament,
lit just the same.

In lunchrooms we appear and disappear,
chimera breathing fire in storerooms—
our fellas fetching flowers on the way home,
we greet them in shadows with Cheshire teeth.

In darkrooms we stand over photographic paper,
watch the exposure of latent constellations in alpha particles
that radiate from us.

When was the threshold crossed?
A glint, a dust mote that wedges its crowbar teeth
between strands of DNA.
We get sick and our insides go neutropenic.

Most assuredly, years later, our legs will crumble beneath us like chalk,
our jaws will unhinge in the dentists’ hands.

We’ll implode in on ourselves, like dad’s waterlogged deck chairs,
like stars collapsing into little singularities
or exploding our matter Earthward.

The doctor holding x-rays of our moth-eaten bones—
but the universe is large and full of holes.

We file suits, the lawyers stall, hope we’ll drop like flies.
And Marie Curie tours the country with vials of radium
in her shirt pocket, poison on a collision course.

Even now, her lab notes are still too contaminated to be handled.
Lab techs stand behind lead screens while we grow unwieldy tumors.

Payouts buy funeral plots.
A date is attached to our birth, carved by a stonemason,
our existence now contained in a hyphen.

In the graveyard our corpses set off Geiger counters.
Everyone stops fumbling, our bones spotted like star charts,
we radiate long after we’re gone.

Larissa’s poems have been longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize and shortlisted for Arc Magazine's Poem of the Year and the Malahat Review's Open Season Award. Her first collection, Mammoth (DC Books) was shortlisted for the QWF First Book Prize and the Kobzar Literary Award. Her second poetry collection Proof (DC Books) was published last spring. Larissa teaches creative writing to at-risk youth in Montreal.