Chernobyl Harvest

by J. Farley Upjohn

Moving through blueberry forests of Polesia
vast northern marshes along Bug River
logged land overturned by amber barons of old
alongside speedy roads, sports-club pools, lawn gnomes now
where blueberry pickers
women and girls with tan, purple hands
pile off bicycles, out cargo vans
to pinball those berries, scoop to bucket, to the hand
of the woman set up by the van, who waves her analogue wand
and watches the Geiger needle swing low for eating
swing wide for dyeing
never mind distinctions, Polesia berries are sweet, plump
tasty like Chernobyl mushrooms
gamma rays press on through object, tissue, water, air, soil
seven decades after crackling the clouds of Belarus
“positive void coefficient flaw”
“sudden void overtake”
ripping electrons off atoms, bursting into terminology
unflourishing to bodies unbuilt for stripped ions
cesium-137, iodine-131
measured in “gray dose ratio”
“joule” energy to kilogram matter
“sievert” accounting for type, transmission, receiver vulnerability
a sievert exposure, 10 percent chance of death in 30 days
so long ago, but still never still, still burrowed unsleeping
straightlining effects from old Chernobyl, old Soviet Union
to new ground booming radioactive fleece, DNA mutation, runaway division
a Victor, a Kolia, a Volodia
dead today of omas, oids, itises, ias
of thyroid, intestine, liver, blood, eye
and neologistic fears of even low levels
radiophobic lives of extreme anxiety
fatalistic alcoholism

Meanwhile, the collective mind remembers hovering angels
people whose feet never touched the ground. Artists still draw
their ionized bodies, draw them without bodies, draw wings and
toes pointing down.

Meanwhile, globes of red berries hang on Exclusion Zone doors.

J. Farley Upjohn returned to poetry after a career in alternative rural education design. Cofounder of Flockophobic Press in New York City and guest editor of Black Ice Magazine, her poetry chapbooks and book-objects include Alice in Ribbons, You can't get milk from an earlobe: primal time at the (Cafe Wha?), Glamour & the Clam, and Too Long in the Reliquary. Farley Upjohn resides in the southern Appalachians and Brooklyn, New York, and is working on a poetry collection with the working title, Yardage & Other Skin.

About Chernobyl Harvest—Attempting to watch the TV series, Chernobyl, but unable to stomach either the memories of crawling from school to home through a highway culvert and tripping over the bomb shelter chimney tube in a friend’s backyard, or the anger toward some humans’ willingness toward inhumanity, I instead wrote “Chernobyl Harvest.”