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Poisoned Soil, by Joseph S. Pete

Poisoned Soil
by Joseph S. Pete

In a black-and-white picture,
Shadow-effect letters pop off the pristine fence line,
Proudly declaring the plant “The Home of Anaconda White Lead”
As though lead were as wholesome as oatmeal,
As All-American as dogs and suds at a vintage drive-in.

For decades, the factory smelted lead,
Corroding lead, antimonial lead,
Lead for paint, insecticides, who knows what else.

Bug-killing chemicals seeped into that patch of soil in East Chicago,
City of heavy industry and hopeful immigrants,
Lakefront city of coiled steel and ship canals.

After the factory inevitably shuttered,
Having run its course,
Someone somewhere at some point
Decided to plop public housing on that salted swath of lead and arsenic.
Somebody decided it was okay
For kids to play in neurotoxin-ridden dirt.

Then one day,
Officials in button-down shirts and soft leather shoes
Called a public meeting
In a school auditorium where a few of the seats were busted-up,
And had been for years.

They spoke of contamination, exposure, testing.
They warned of brain disorders and nervous system damage.
They used words like “toxicity” and “risk,”
Phrases like “cognitive deficit.”

Residents learned there was a malicious invader
In the soil, in their children’s blood.
They learned it had been there,
Been lurking
All along.

From the poet: "Joseph S. Pete is an Iraq War veteran, an award-winning journalist, an Indiana University graduate, a book reviewer, and a frequent guest on Lakeshore Public Radio in Merrillville. He was named the poet laureate of Chicago BaconFest 2016, a feat that Geoffrey Chaucer chump never accomplished. His work has appeared in The Five-Two, Chicago Literati, Dogzplot, shufPoetry, The Roaring Muse, Blue Collar Review, Lumpen, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Pulp Modern, Zero Dark Thirty and elsewhere. He once Googled the Iowa Writers' Workshop. True story, believe it or not."