We Knew Nothing Then

Photo by _Olga_ on FlickrWe knew
but that we must
do as told, that no harm
would come to us. We knew

we were working
towards peace, and we moved
everyone off the atoll. Thatch
houses, outriggers, everything
that was left behind

was burnt.
Then, for 23 days we did nothing
but swam, ate ice cream, slept
in the sun waiting for a tug on our fishing poles
cast overboard in the luminous

water. We were making
history without our knowing.
Why, then, did God give us power
of doubt? The sea turned mist,
our left ships blackened in the blast. The ocean

was a landscape painted
with minor fires. Why
did belief cleave
to us so strongly? The Geiger counters’
constant irregular ticking

as we passed before them
was like the tallying of fates
of each of us,
every object,
one by one.

Miriam Bird Greenberg is the author of two chapbooks: All night in the new country and Pact-Blood, Fever Grass. She's held fellowships from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, the Poetry Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and was a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University. She lives in Berkeley and teaches ESL, though she's also crossed the continent on bicycle and by freight train, deckhanded aboard sailboats, and hitchhiked on four continents.