The Radium Girls
by Craig Finlay
When the case against the United States Radium
Corporation finally came to court, the women who
brought the lawsuit were so sick they could not raise
their hands to swear to the truth, the whole truth,
nothing but the truth, so help them God. They had used
radium to paint the luminescent dials of wrist watches.
They had been instructed to wet their brushes with their
lips because their mouths wasted less radium than a
glass of water. And so, instead of the water, it entered
them, and they glowed brighter than the faces of the
watches they painted. So bright that it was difficult to
look at them directly. Bailiffs handed out disposable
sunglasses in the courtroom. The kind one wears after
getting their pupils dilated at the optometrist.
Eventually they had to use welding goggles, and after a
while even that didn’t work. “Objection,” the defense
called, his voice muffled through a heavy welding
mask. “How are we expected to get any work done
under these circumstances?” Around the courthouse
windows, millions of moths swarmed, thinking they
must be near the darkest place. How the birds must
have feasted, how the spiders must have rejoiced.
Craig is a most-of-the-time librarian and some-of-the-time poet currently on an Omaha leg of a lifelong tour of the midwest. His first collection of poems, The Very Small Mammoths of Wrangel Island, was released by Urban Farmhouse Press in 2021.