On the Pripyat, 2006 by Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach


April again, and again the river thaws grey –
snow slipping under the confluence
of five water bodies. They too have been
trying to flee this place, but like me, return
yearly, here: graphite stained sandy banks, where
I am as protected now from the frost
and what it carries as the soldiers were then
in their government-issued boots, proudly
walking the roof of the reactor.
through black dust plumes and twenty years,
I still see their shapes: each lift bearing the weight
of ten, each lift, a clearing of noxious shards,
concrete and lead turned igneous, a fading
of mask-covered body, and their gloves,
singed, stippled with flesh, spark-lit, like the birth
of some faraway universe in their hands.
joined to watch, drawn upward by the wonder:
darkness wavering between hanging and falling,
man wrapped in his own ignited vapor, unbound,
unbinding in an unanswerable wait – What is it
really made of, this sullied snow bank
crystalizing about our feet?

                                          Now, I try to imagine it,
moving closer, the ice grinding against my ankles:
Chernobyl, I slice the name in two, search both sides
for meaning: Chornaya bol’ – black black
чёрная, then боль, pain, eclipsing the last
quarter moon’s view and there is
no light:
               a sudden power surge, a rupture, it started
in the fourth, the bubbler pools rising to a boil,
corium lava from the basement, fuel-flows
seeping out, then the smoke, growing,
animal: a black bear grasping for clouds,
growling so loudly, the entire city woke
to look up, only to find
                                       he’s already eaten the stars.



Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach emigrated as a Jewish refugee from Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine in 1993. She holds an MFA in Poetry from the University of Oregon and is in the University of Pennsylvania’s Comparative Literature Ph.D. program. Julia’s poetry has appeared in Guernica, Nashville Review, and Consequence Magazine, among others journals. Julia’s manuscript The Bear Who Ate the Stars has been selected as the winner of Split Lip Magazine’s Uppercut Chapbook Award, and is forthcoming from Split Lip Press later this year.