Invitation to a Launch

A poem from a nuclear launch control center.

Come with me into the prairie,

In the Big Sky past the cattle and eyes can see,

Through the gate and down the tunnel,

Where patient grim reapers watch TV.


Deep underground, follow me

Back to the seventies,

Toward the steady drip of the midnight tea

And coffee for the prairie pilots’ master’s degrees,

Daily checklists and inventories

For the launch codes and warheads, two signatories.


Close this blast door with me,

In this fortified, steel cave of solitary,

On the anytime cusp of history,

Distract me from the possibility,

Cataclysm, catastrophe!


On the minds of under thirties,

Sitting ready,



In this Cold War, waiting war, see me

In the at-the-ready-so-as-never-have-to-go-to war,

The if-we-ever-have-to-do-the-mission-we’ve-failed war,

The success-is-the-absence-of-result war,

The forever never war.


Turn in time with me these keys,


Strategic wings,


Bear our will upon our enemies,

One day, maybe,

Despite this collective culpability

You see,


What a lonely job standby reaping to be.


Ashley Wiser is a former nuclear launch officer and current nuclear nonproliferation professional in Washington, DC, where she enjoys long walks above ground. She studied creative writing, among other things, at the University of Iowa.