by Adrienne Rich
An unnamed speaker tells a brief anecdote about how a backhoe (basically, a big ol' excavating machine) unearthed an old bottle of liquid. This bottle is a relic of the past. It's one of those quack sciences, so-called magical bottles of tonic that was advertised back in the day as the solution to all humankind's problems. As in, Cure your malaise with sugar water! Then the speaker suddenly shifts gears. She tells us that she was reading about Marie Curie earlier in the day. (Perhaps drawing a contrast between Curie and the sellers of tonic). The speaker imagines that Curie understood her radiation sickness better than anyone else, though she denied it, which draws our attention to the tension between what Curie knew, and what Curie would admit to the world. In the final stanza, the speaker slowly and powerfully tells us that Curie died "a famous woman," all while denying that her ailments were caused by radium, the "source" of her power.