Radiation King

Dear Jason Gray,

I stand by the assertion that all poetry and religions are a cry in the dark towards the endless something that we can’t reach. Radiation King is a violent smash of the most basic parts of our being into that void of dark matter, of beginning and ending, of whatever next is. In the poem “THE VISIBLE SPECTRA”, you actually name this uncertain variable and complicate it: “The latest math finds ninety-five percent / Of the universe subluminous: dark matter, / Dark energy. We don’t know what it is, / Except it isn’t dark.” This dark, endless mystery is no longer dark. It is made into something familiar through your words. You bring the abstract expansive dark to the light, describing what can only be described as nothingness, as we sing along to this explosive, scientifically generated poetry.

You look down so closely at the cells of your own reality that it quickly becomes recognizable as anyone’s cells. The amount of care and thoughtfulness and personality that goes into the choice of each description brings the reader closer to what you see, and closer to the way we might see the world. It becomes important that it is my cells that you are talking about because it is so urgent the way you are conveying the message. This book already feels necessary, but your tone of urgency makes it seem even more important that we read it. The exaltation of the smallest, most irreplaceable pieces of our being: the atom. Treated as if they are to be respected and feared, little gods. Hydrogen bombs are more human than humans in this post-apocalyptic daydream. Someone had to write this in the terrifying, increasingly pre-apocalyptic world we live in. I’m grateful you were the one to do it. Who else could have held the drama and desperation in: “By the time Andromeda /Is our permanent firework, someone /Is watching us, and we are ghosts.” For the empathy of: “but death is not a rabbit/ Pulled from your coat on a crowded subway”.

The tone drifts from solemn and desperate, as in “RED”, to satirical, as in “US RADIUM’S FINEST PERSONNEL MAN TO THE NEW RECRUITS”. The former using words like “scratching at the walls” and “The Wolf can see you / Riding Hood so run / Run run, run Red run” twisting the tone to life or death. The latter of the two, with death, apocalypse, radiation, and quiet violence permeating every pore, feels undeniably like a fresh White Noise (by Don Delillo).

“COLOR IS AN EVENT” marks the center of the book, and continues your cry into the darkness, into the unknown, towards the end. In this section, the specific detail makes me feel as though I am walking in to your fever dream and waking up in my own. All the details are so specific and thoughtful that we can see it as clearly as if it was our own thought, but it feels so personal it must be a dream. Each poem feels almost like an obituary in the wake of the impossibility of tomorrow.

Blue: “Oh sweet shipwreck. / I would de-blue you stitch / By stitch, raise the bluest flame from your skin / With every kiss, flood and loose every vein / Until all left is your cloud-breaking peak.”

Violet: “A little massacre, or, a massacre / Of little things, the slow lurch of sea snails / Made them immensely catchable.” You make it seem so obvious, and yet so specific and absurd, we could never have thought of it. Of course this is what blue is the most. Of course violet is a massacre.

The book finally implodes into itself in the last section: “ATOMS”. Small breaths of words mark the beginning of each page, without title and in a consistent recognizable form, beginning only with “You have to start / Somewhere.” You bring us to the ocean, bring us back and back and back until we see the way you see. There is always that desperation, the need to “Clutch for anything.” The sea is the only thing left to save us, the thing that will bring us “To know if we’d corrode / Or heal.”

This book showed me that “The Universe is not collapsing back”, and somehow combines us all into a single atom that is the same. I feel the urgency. I feel the threat, without feeling hopeless. There is always connection.

Thank you for this cry,

Thank you for connecting us all so thoughtfully,

Death feels like delight in this collection,

Haley Morton


Haley Morton is a poetry student at the University of South Florida. Her work often centers around the experience of women, and the search for identity. She lives in Tampa, FL.