The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Drowning in the Floating World by Meg Eden

This selection, chosen by Guest Curator Erika Eckart, is from Drowning in the Floating World by Meg Eden, released by Press 53 in 2020.

Radium Girls

I. December 1923: Waterbury Clock Factory, Connecticut

my mouth is a room that lights up in the dark

the girl who trained me spatula-full of radium in her mouth corners of her lips gritty and glowing her reassurance that the paint was harmless taught us how to point the paintbrush tip between our lips

my manager says a little radon puts the sex in your cheeks nudging me

some girls hate the taste but i love it it tastes like eternity

no matter how many times i brush my teeth at night i taste that gritty glue

i’m good and quick i get more dials done than the other girls

sometimes i only get thirty dials done a day what will my mother say when she sees my paycheck

my mouth’s been aching my mother blames my sweet tooth

last night a tooth came out i didn’t have to do anything it just fell into my hand

other people buy radium soda radium candy radium facial creams but we get it for free we’re the luckiest girls in the world

in the dark we are all suns our faces hands dresses glow like the dials we paint

one girl’s halfway to becoming an angel her back all the way down to her waist glowing

soon we won’t have to put it on at all it’ll be in our bones it’ll pour out from forever-twenty skin

II. August 2011: Miyakoji, Japan

when we visit our house we wear cough masks we wear suits

at our house the grass is tall and uncut everything is still on the floor where it fell when the earthquake hit

the body of a dog is tangled in our fence his body hasn’t fully decomposed a patch of fur like a felt block remaining on his right ear

first thing: my father disposes of the dog my mother gets on her knees and begins scrubbing the floor in her gloves and suit she adjusts the family altar and burns a stick of incense

every time we go outside my father brings a meter on good days we can play on the blacktop for thirty minutes

my mother asks me if i feel alright if anything feels odd i think about stuffing my mouth with our flowers eating the expired candy in our kitchen and becoming my own power plant

on the edge of town a cleanup crew fills bags with radioactive waste there are lots of bags they fill up my old school’s baseball field the bags get high enough to build a black wall

They say They’ll get rid of the bags soon but my mother doesn’t believe Them she says They are burying us inside our own waste because no one wants to look at us and feel guilty no one wants to remember what went wrong or change anything everyone wants to go back to work back to their homes and return to what they’ve always done

my mother’s voice gets loud when she says this she’s holding a watch her mother gave her when she was a girl like me she drops it and it falls to the floor the glass face cracks with one split sound even so it continues ticking my mother goes silent i am silent—it makes every tick seem louder than it really is

Meg Eden is a 2020 Pitch Wars mentee, and winner of the 2021 Towson Prize for Literature. Her work is published or forthcoming in magazines including Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Crab Orchard Review, RHINO and CV2. She teaches creative writing at Anne Arundel Community College. She is the author of five poetry chapbooks, the novel Post-High School Reality Quest (2017), and the poetry collection Drowning in the Floating World (2020)

Erika Eckart is the author of the tyranny of heirlooms, a chapbook of interconnected prose poems (Sundress Publications, 2018). Her writing has appeared in Double Room, Agni, Quarter After Eight, Quick Fiction, Nano Fiction, Quiditty, and elsewhere. She is a High School English Teacher in Oak Park, IL where she lives with her husband and two children.


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