Warlock's Arsenal


No cure for its alchemy
not even a one-legged man
running for the coast.

When the old guys hork blood
Bill the young gardener glares. Chemicals.
Told in training
the thin membranes of the eyes
direct entry into the bloodstream.
Under the mask and goggles
you breathe uneasy, your throat
heavy with phlegm.
They laugh at your precautions.

All our stories
of this foreman or another:
so safe you can drink it.
Five years later, banned.
2-4-5 T, Agent Orange by another name.

The slow casualties,
symptoms passed off as living.

Downstairs in the shop,
a cabinet that Carlo calls
the warlock's cupboard.
Broken bags of green powders,
brown bottles labelled
with skull and crossbones.
Can't dump it.
Too old to use; who knows
what it is. Can't bury it.

You try to forget what you know:
two years ago
spraying upwind of the school.
Wind rises and falls. Had your orders.
Fog drifts. Diapers flagging
on the lines in the new suburbs.

Outside the supermarket
a woman sells plastic lapel pins
and daffodils tilted in buckets.
While your nostrils rankle
somewhere between dairy products and produce
the unmistakable stink of 2-4 D,
yellow bags of Weed and Feed.

Then over the line one night
looking for a bar in Niagara Falls, New York.
The year after Love Canal;
the year before someone discovers
toxins in the Lakes.
Like a shrine
at the end of the street,
high white tanks spotlighted:
            HOOKER CHEMICALS
You turn down another,
that ends in white tanks
and another, until you're lost in them.
Nowhere to turn.
You drink more beer that night.

You wake up
sweat under your chin;
that July in a rubberized suit,
you'd pulled down your mask for awhile.
How many gallons of sour air
in your clothes, your skin.

Blood tests. Will they find it
when they don't know
what they're looking for.

Monster cells and the fear
splitting and devouring,
until your skin no longer contains you.


Bruce Hunter, Two O'Clock Creek: Poems New and Selected, Oolichan Books, 2010.