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It was a silvery metal

             in a dark room

blue-skewed glow 

excited by decay

Did Carolyn Parker 

             hold the polonium in her hands

did she ever breathe it in?

working government top-secret

with this radioactive element

—The Dayton Project—

research and development 

             during World War II 

part of the Manhattan Project 

building the first atomic bombs


             the first Black woman in the U.S.

             to have a postgraduate degree 

             in physics

two master's—the other in mathematics

dedicated, hardworking, afire

little is known of her work

within the team constructing secrets:

polonium-based neutron 

initiators kindling pressure

Dayton Project employees 

weren’t allowed to eat in processing areas 

             scrubbing down before leaving

             (some had contaminated bobby pins)

she became an assistant professor 

             in physics at Fisk University

close to completing a doctorate at MIT

so much more to discover

             from this sharp ascending scientist

her time far too short

atomic number 84

leukaemia at age 48