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When the Nuclear Ice Age begins, some of us
will start to change. The first growths
will appear and vanish

so quickly I’ll wonder if they were
tactile hallucinations
brought on by oxygen deficiency.

Except you’ll feel them, too. Their scent
will linger in our living quarters
long after we fall asleep. Next morning,

after you’ve gone to work, my arms
will tingle, and I’ll wonder if my skin
is bursting into a fallout rash,

if Company insurance will cover
a dermatologist. I’ll run
my fingers over them, lightly, and see

clusters of tiny magenta buds
swell into pink flowers
that I’ll recognize as eastern redbud blossoms

a surprisingly resilient tree
that once grew in cities and parklands
across the mid-Atlantic northeast.

The blooms will close as I withdraw my hand.
But they will come again that night, and the next,
and one day, they do not disappear

but stay, having spread to wrists
and shoulders. Standing before the mirror,
I feel my limbs

strengthen like the sinews of a tree.
I don’t make my shift that day.
You spill your coffee when you get home

and say, in awe and with a touch of jealousy,
“We can’t stay here.” Where can we go?
You’ve heard of others like me, other humans

whose genes are susceptible to this
mutation, this—your features twist—hybridity.
You’ve found an old address.

“It’s in a … well, a seedy part of town.”
We walk to the end of an old train line
past a decrepit transportation center

a few miles from the fallout zone.
You double-check the index card with its hand-
written directions, then

pull me toward the double doors
of a crumbling stone church. I roll my eyes
but you pretend not to notice

and knock, softly at first, then louder.
A face appears. It’s midnight,
and they seem to be wearing a hood,

but I think I catch a glimpse
of dark birthmarks on their cheeks
before they turn, beckoning for us

to follow. By candlelight
they lead us down a rickety set of stairs
and through an old pine door.

The whole room hears your gasp.
I’m stiff with stress, but grinning ear to ear.
A person with iris petals

rising from their collarbone
meets my eyes and smiles
a shy hello. A woman

from whose hips sway clumps of lilac
whispers, Welcome.
A man enveloped in forget-me-nots

tosses his head and gives a knowing glance.
Our guide removes their hood, and then a shock
of sweet-pea tendrils come cascading down.

Their birthmarks glow a bright and vibrant green.
And there are others—violets (white and blue),
wild pansies, thyme, legumes. We

must be the first wild plant life since the Blast!
And you, my love? You’ve turned your face away.
“Don’t you want to stay with me?” I ask.

Samantha Pious is a translator, poet, editor, and medievalist. Her translations from the poetry of Renée Vivien are available as A Crown of Violets (Headmistress Press, 2017); her translation of Christine de Pizan’s One Hundred Ballades of a Lover and His Lady is forthcoming.
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