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Elena's Chernobyl

On the road to Chernobyl lies a pure white ovoid,
marble, two and a half  meters high
called the Big Egg, donated by Germany
as a symbol of life punching through to the unknown.
Intended as a sign of hope, the ironic gesture is not lost
on a biker girl who must consider that from this point on
there is no clean fuel, no edible food, and no drinkable water.

This is truth for free from a Ukrainian named Elena
who, from the back of her sleek Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle
chronicles Chernobyl's legacy with free-ranging camera -
the poisoned farms and dead villages, a city where trees grow
through the vacant eyes of an apartment building,
where a faded mural proclaims Lenin, communism's hero,
under a string of threadbare laundry, drying for 18 years.

Records confess in April 1986, people thronged to the roofs
to marvel at the wondrous glow of their benefactor
as it spewed clouds of lethal smoke across the town's center,
over the rose gardens and playgrounds where mothers stumbled,
searching for their lost children. The unearthly radiance
created forests so contaminated the hardwoods glowed red for days.
Now storehouses for malignancy, the trees no longer fear the axe.

Elena's Chernobyl is a last days of Pompeii sort of place.
Both the mundane and the beloved rot in the spring damp,
scatter in the summer winds, crack and shatter
in the relentless winter cold, and the relics freeze for the camera.
The people possessed handmade quilts, TV sets,
jars of preserves, babushka's favorite pipe, books, vodka,
photographs, teddy bears, mail, shoes, pots and pans

and the next day they were naked, standing under chemical showers
their lives cut in half - no home, no possessions, no past, fearsome futures.
Radiation will stay for 48,000 years, even though the experts say
people can return in 600, give or take three centuries,
bad news for the mutating, devolving animals. Wolf, fox, deer, 
wild horses that look prehistoric, stubbornly survive,
ignoring woman and camera, leaving only tracks and scat.

The most radioactive things outside Chernobyl's sarcophagus -
its concrete shroud crumbling in a losing battle against half-lives -
are the fire trucks, first on the scene to fight just another fire.
Ignorant of their death sentence, their pilots and soldiers
were deceived for days by officials who kept up pretenses
until the men began dying - retching, hemorrhaging, brains blistered.
So far, four hundred thousand souls have perished; more to come.

Elena ceaselessly monitors her device that measures radiation,
willing to risk exposure to the insidious poison so she can freely
rip the unbearable silence with the roar of her beloved Ninja,
biker girl's life preserver and escape pod from the nuclear desert.
Only the man-made has the strength to slough off the radiation.
It hides in the living, in apples, mushrooms, and the grass called chernobyl,
wormwood, a useless foliage that imparts bitterness when consumed.

--- Leslie Wolfe-Cundiff

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