Chernobyl Revisited

Pripyat (Chernobyl) photo by David Schindler

Given the nuclear crisis in Japan, here’s a 1987 poem based on my experience of the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe while living in Germany.

“The Ukrainian Word for Wormwood is Chernobyl”

(from Frederick Pohl’s Chernobyl. A Novel (1987). — “A well-executed thriller…brings the story home”
– San Francisco Chronicle)

And the third angel sounded,
And there fell a great star from heaven,
Burning as it were a lamp,
And it fell upon the third part of the rivers,
And upon the fountains of the waters;
And the name of the star is called Wormwood:
And the third part of the waters became wormwood;
And many men died of the waters,
Because they were made bitter.

The wind is in from the east.
The baby’s dummy flops into the dust.
Buddha grandma looks on,
impassive as a newsreader.
Helicopters are X-rayed
pouring sand into the expiring gullet
of the Wounded Beast.

These hills, these plains, these acid rivers,
these jewelled conurbations
are now a laboratory under empty skies.
We look up for some sign. The air
seems furry and out of focus. We find
no portents, no revelations emblazoned
on angels’ wings.

The stomach’s pit kicks
with a change profounder
than the tongue can twist.
We scurry for cover like rats
for the button. Most clever creatures
resilient to all manner of plague,
constricting under the ignorant screws
that rivet our muscles to the wheel,
our eyeballs to the screens
as joyous electrons crystallize
into an expert in armchair.

Acting out an expert in an armchair,
advising caution, calm,
Reason – as his religion collapses.
(Avoid milk, ice cream, greens,
grass, rain, gloveless dusting and life
for a few days, weeks, months
and go shopping
with the Combined Bequerel/Chemicals Chart
until it all blows over or up or under and out
and hose down the kids before bed). The Smile
Of Tranquillity and now back
to the World Cup in Mexico.

Unto us is given this bitter star.
It lies as true as the lives we lead.
As useful as the Second Coming.
As real as a TV screen
illuminating a family
in its happy sarcophagus.
One Body, One Mind,
Two Paychecks. Synchronized
silent hosannas, floating
in the clouds of eternal amusement.

The threads of cells unravelling
and dissolving at the quick. Our schedules
are not marked for mourning. The future
grins in the marrows of our bones.

Hold me now, pull up
the sheet beneath
this tilting air.

[published in The Knee Monologues & Other Poems, available at Picaro Press on the Blogroll]


~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on March 15, 2011.

2 Responses to “Chernobyl Revisited”

  1. Thank you. As always you define with vision and insight and I feel somehow more sane and less isolated after reading your poetry.

    • Thank you Laara, nice to hear from you again. Your comment honours me and also makes me feel more sane and less isolated. Seems to be the effect and healing function of art & literature when they resonate. And congrats on the invitation to the Ludwigshaven exhibition. P.

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