Friday, October 30, 2015

Chernobyl: How people suffered: A set of Haikus recounting what a liquidator's wife went through.

Infant Mortality

Nuclear infant deaths
Twenty-three million of them
In India alone.

Does this haiku catch
The depth of the tragedy

Experience this
Through liquidators’ accounts
In Svetlana’s work.

We were newlyweds
We still walked our hands clasped
Even just to stores.

Love you I would say
But I did not know how much
Had no …idea

He was a fireman
In the fire station he worked
In its dorm we lived.

First floor was dorm
It housed three other couples
We shared a kitchen.

Ground floor had red trucks
I knew what was happening,
Where and how he was.

One night there was a noise
I looked out of the window
My husband saw me.

Reactor on fire
Close the window, go to sleep
I will be back soon.

I saw just the flames
I didn’t see the explosion
Everything radiant

The whole sky was aflame
Tall flames and smoke; heat awful;
He is still not back.

The smoke was from tar
Burning graphite filled the roof;
On hot tar we walked.

Tried to beat down flames,
Kicked burning graphite with feet,
Wore no canvas gear.

Went he in shirt sleeves
They had been called for a fire
And that was it folks.

Four o’clock, five, six
At six, visit his parents
To plant potatoes.

But he was not back,
Sowing, ploughing, he loved it:
They: Don’t move to town.

Even built house for him.
He drafted into army:
Fire brigade, Moscow.

Came out of army;
Wanted to be fireman
Tragic: Nothing else.

I feel he is alive,
Photos convey not his voice,
I hear his voice, live.

But never he calls
Always I have to call him;
In my dreams also.

At seven morning
Told he was in hospital
I ran towards it.

I saw police cordon
Letting not anyone through
But ambulances.               

The police shouted:
Stay away! Radioactive!
All wives were present.

Looking for a friend
A doc at the hospital
I grabbed her white coat.

When she emerged out
Yes, out of an ambulance
Said: Get me inside.

I can’t; he is bad!
They all are! Just to see him.
All-right, come with me.

Just fifteen minutes
I saw him: swollen, puffed up
Barely see his eyes.

“Needs milk, lots of it”
Each must at least three liters;
Hates milk, but now gulps!

In that hospital,
Many doctors and nurses
Became sick and died.

Ten in the morning:
Photoman Shishenok died
He was the first one.

We did not know then
Valera Kodemchuk died
Left under debris.

Under the concrete
Among the first  to be buried
Just the first ones,see?

Get out of here, go!
You have our child said Valya.
Leave him? How can I?

Leave! Save the baby!
First I need to bring you milk
Then we’ll decide next.

Tanya my friend comes
Her husband’s in the same room
Her father’s with her.

They came in a car
Drive to the nearest village
For the drug called milk!

Three kilometres
From Pripyat buy milk bottles
Six three litre bunch.

They threw up the milk
The firemen kept passing out
Were put on TVs.

Doctors kept telling
They had been poisoned by gas
None said radiation.

Town crowded at once
Military vehicles
They closed off all roads.

Trains, trolleys all stopped.
Streets being washed with white powder
How to get fresh milk?

None talked radiation
Only military folks
Wore surgical masks.

The people in town
Were carrying bread from stores
Loaves in open sacks!

People were eating
Cup-cakes on plates: Tragedy,
Good in thought, word, deed?

Hospital area,
Crowded: I could not enter,
Stood at his window!

Someone in the crowd
Heard him desperately yell:
To Moscow that night.

The wives decided:
Let us go with our husbands!
But you have no right.

We all punched and clawed:
The soldiers there pushed us back:
The doctor then came out.

“Do fly to Moscow!”
We needed to bring their clothes.
“Station clothes burnt off”

Bus service had stopped
We ran across the city
Ran back with their bags.

Plane already gone!
They tricked us. “No yelling, cries.”
It was dead of night.

Left: Hundreds buses.
Right side: Hundreds of fire-trucks.
Came from all over.

The whole street filled with white foam,
We walking on it.

Crying and cursing:
Radio: Flee Pripyat three to five days,
Into the forest.

Take warm clothes with you
You will be living in tents
Folks were even glad!

Oh! A camping trip!
May day celebrate like that
A break from routine.

They readied barbeques.
Guitars and radios they took
Core melt: fumes, we cried.

The impunity
Modern civilization’s:
Perfect mass murders.

Went to my village:
Mama! Vasya’s in Moscow!
Flew in special plane.

Sowing, planting done
Village evacuated
After a whole week!

Bah! Who knew that then?
Later in the day threw up:
I: Six months pregnant.

I felt so awful
That night dreamt he was calling
After death, no more.

Morning I woke up
 I fly alone to Moscow?
Mother cries: No way!

So I took father
He withdrew all money
Don’t remember trip.

I to Moscow cop:
Where are Chernobyl firemen?
He duly told us.

We were too surprised!                                                       
People! It is top secret!
Yet we got address.

The Hospital six
At the Shekunskaya stop
What contradictions!

For radiology
Entry with a pass only

Door woman : Hush cash!
She allowed us in: Ahead!
I beg someone else.

Head Radiologist!
Angelina Guskova
Inside her office.

She: Do you have kids?
Hide from her I am pregnant
Two kids, boy and girl.

So you don’t need more.
His central nervous system
Fully compromised.

Fully compromised
Is skull; will be fidgety
Don’t get close to him.

No hugging crying
No kissing; have half an hour
But I wasn’t leaving.

Its with him I leave.
I come in, they are playing cards
On bed and laughing.

Vasya! They call out.
He turns round: Even here she!
Now its all over!

He looks so funny:
Pyjamas on, size forty-eight
Four sizes smaller.

The sleeves are too short
His trousers are very short
But face not swollen.

Were given fluid
I: where did you run off to?
He wants to hug me.

Doctor disallows
Sit sit, she says, no hugging.
We made joke of it!

Everyone joins in
Even from the other rooms,
All from Pripyat town.

28 on plane
Whats going on? How are things?

One of the women
Who was on duty that day:
My kids, they are there!

I alone with him
Hugged and kissed him, he moved back!
Sit not near me please.

That is just silly
Did you see the explosion?
You saw what happened?

Perhaps sabotage
That’s what they were saying then
That is what they thought.

The next day they lay
Each in one’s own bed alone
Hallway out of bounds.

No conversation!
Knocked on the wall like morse code
Dash dot dash dot dash….

The doctors explained
No person reacts the same
To radiation.

Right, left, floor below
They measured wall radiation
All the sick were removed.

All the sick were removed
From the floors above below
No one was left there.

For three days I lived
With friends in Moscow city!
“Please take what you need”

I made turkey soup
For six of our boys: Firemen
On duty that night.

Bought them toothpaste, soap
Toothbrushes- they did not have
In that hospital!

Bought little towels
Looking back I am surprised
By my friends’ kindness.

They were afraid sure
How could they not be: Rumours!
But still they gave things.

They asked: How is he?
How are they all? Will they live?
I remained silent.

Lots of good people
Don’t remember all of them
Whom I came across.

An old janitor:
“These are incurable ills”
You just sit watch them.

I go to market
Every morning, then to friends!
Where I make the soup

Grate and grind all things
One said: Bring me apple juice
Six half litre cans!

Race to hospital
I sit there till evening
Then back across town!

They after three days:
Stay in hospital staff dorm
On hospital grounds.

There is no kitchen
How do I cook? Not needed!
They can’t digest food

He started to change
Everyday met a stranger
A brand-new person.

Burns came to surface
In his mouth, tongue, on his cheeks.
Little lesions grew.

Came off in layers
As white film, his faeces colour
Turned blue, red, grey, brown.

And its all so very mine
 Cannot write down that

Cannot write down that
Unable to get over
But happened so fast

No time for thinking
No time for crying at all
It was fast forward

How much did I love?
We had just gotten married
Kissed me on the road

Kiss me and kiss me
Grab my hands and whirl me round
People smile at us

It’s a hospital
For serious radiation hits
Fourteen days-man died

The dormitory:
Dosimeter measured me
Clothes, bag, purse, shoes hot

Took all that away
Took even my underthings
Only cash was left

In exchange, a robe
Size fifty-six and slippers
Of size forty-three.

No laundry just now
But would return clothes later
At visit I looked like that.

I did frighten him
Dear woman, what’s wrong with you?
I made some soup though

Glass jar: Boiled water
Threw pieces chicken in there
Tiny, tiny ones.

Guard gave me her pot
Chopped parsley on cutting board
Got vegetables

It was all useless
Little could he even drink
Swallow not a raw egg.

As if it mattered
Wanted to get tasty food
Ran to post office.

Girls! I need to call
Ivanov Frankovsk right now
My parents are there

Husband is dying
They understood who I was
They connected me.

They flew to Moscow
Father, sister and brother
They brought me things, cash

It was 9th of May
Always used to say to me
You have no idea

Get idea how
Soo beautiful Moscow is
That too on V day

He opened his eyes
Its day or night? Nine at night
Open the window!

We are on eighth floor
Whole city there before us!
Fire bouquet explodes!

Look at that, I said.
Told you I would show Moscow
Holidays! Flowers!

I look over and
He gave me three carnations
He gave cash, nurse brought!

I run and kiss him
My love! My one and only!
He ugh stands growling

What doctors told you?
No hugging me, no kissing
Woud’nt let me hug him.

I lifted him and
Sat him up and made his bed
Placed thermometer

Sanitation dish
I picked up and brought it back
At night stayed up there.

Hallway: My head spins
Grabbed onto the window sill
A doc passing saw

Took me by the arm
Suddenly, are you pregnant?
Scared someone hear us!

No, no. He: Don’t lie.
Next day: Head doctor’s office
You lied to me, why?

Doc, no other way
Truth: I would be sent back
It was sacred lie.

Grateful to head doc
My whole life! Other wives came
But were disallowed.

Their mothers with me:
Volodya Pravik’s mother:
God, take me instead.

Dr Gale was kind
Bone marrow op: Ray of hope.
Powerful organ

He such a strong guy
They call all his relatives
Brother, two sisters

He from Leningrad
The sisters from Belarus
Natasha’s best fit!

Fourteen she was, cried.
She was scared out of her wits
I can reveal now.

He: From Natasha?
She is so small, don’t touch her
I’d rather die.

Elder one, a nurse.
She knew what she was due for
She was twenty eight.

“As long as he lives”
I watched the operation
They were side by side.

See through big windows
Operation took two hours
Eighteen punctures done.

Chest: Eighteen punctures
She had trouble coming out
Of anaesthesia.

She turned invalid
From a strong and pretty girl
She was a spinster

Running from my room
To his bio-chamber with
Transparent curtain

No one allowed in
Curtains are closed by Velcro
I learned to use them

I went in to him
Little chair next to his bed
Required constant care

Terminally ill
Was calling me constantly
Where are you Lyusya?

The bio-chambers
Where the other firemen were
Soldiers looked after

Protective clothing
Demanded the orderlies
Replaced by soldiers

Sledge hammer to brain:
The soldiers did everything
But all firemen dead

He was producing
Stools twenty-five times a day
With blood and mucous.

Arms and legs: Skin cracked
He became covered with boils
When he turned his head:

Hair clump on pillow
I tried joking: Don’t need comb!
Soon all the hair gone

Hair cut: Did myself
Would have stayed with him all day
Were it possible.

Could’nt spare a minute
My brother came and got scared
“I won’t let you there”

But my father told:
You think you can stop sister?
Window, fire escape!

Back in hospital
Orange on bedside table
A big one and pink

Smiles: I got a gift
Nurse: Gesturing through the filter
That I can’t eat it

“You like oranges”
Instead I take the orange
Shuts his eyes sleeps off.

Shots to make him sleep
In horror nurse looks at me
Let him not think death

Conversation piece:
No more is he your husband:
Deadly radio source!

Not suicidal?
But I love him, I love him!
And he is sleeping.

He sleeps, I whisper:
“I love you”, carrying tray
I love you always.

I remembered home
 All night he slept hand in hand
So in hospital

One night all’s quiet
We are alone, he said:
Want to see our child

What shall we name him?
You’ll decide that yourself.
When there are two of us?

In that case: If its
Boy Vasya, girl Natasha
No clue how much love.

I loved him, just him
I was like a blind person
Could’nt feel the infant!

Inside me I thought
The small one was protected
In bio-chamber!

No doc knew I stayed
At night in bio-chamber
The nurses allowed.

At first they pleaded
You are young and doing this?
Both of you will burn.

I was like a dog
Stood hours at their door begging:
“You are abnormal!”

All right, hell with you
At eight docs started their rounds
Nurses shield film: Run!

In dorm for an hour,
9 to 9 my pass allows
Tired! Swollen blue legs!

When I was not there
They photographed him naked
Covered with thin sheet

I changed sheet daily
By evening it was bloody
I picked him up

Skin bits stuck to me
Love, prop with arm and elbow
So I can make bed.

None of the nurses
Could approach him, they called me
What a disaster!

They photographed him
For science they said: How dare they?
Its all mine: My love

Into the hallway
Tell duty nurse he is dying
“What did you expect?”

1600 rads
400 is lethal dose
“Nuke reactor he”

Its all mine my love
Renovated hospital
When all of them died.

And then the last thing
I remember in flashes
All broken pieces

Am on little chair
Next to him at night; said I
Am going for walk.

Opens closes eyes
Lets me go; I went to dorm
Lay down on the floor

Cleaning lady knocks
Run to him; he’s calling you
Instead went elsewhere

Friend took me away:
In cemetery firemen
Were to be buried.

Friends of my Vasya
Our families were close friends
Photo: Day before

Husbands so handsome
And happy; last day of that
Were all so happy

Back,call nurses post.
“Died fifteen minutes ago.”
What? Was there all night.

I escorted him
All the way to the grave site
He in plastic bag.

They in the morgue:
Want to see what he is dressed in?
Could’nt get shoes on him.

His feet had swollen up
Formal wear cut to his size
Body full of wounds.

In the last two days
I’d lift his arm, bone shaking
Body gone from bone.

Pieces of his lungs
Liver coming from his mouth
His organs choked him.

Hand wrapped in bandage
I would put it in his mouth
Take out all that stuff

Its mine, all my love
Impossible to live through
Buried him barefoot

Right before my eyes
Took him in his formal wear
Into plastic bag

Then they put this bag
Into the wooden coffin
Cover: Thick plastic

Into zinc coffin
They squeezed it in, cap left out
Well insulated!?

Both side parents came
Bought black hankies in Moscow
Doctor met with us

Told all the same thing
Bodies too radioactive
Sign this document

They will be buried
They are radioactive wastes
Hence in special way

Are you indignant?
Want to take the coffin back?
Bodies no more yours

The dead are heroes
Belonged not to families
But to the country

In hearse we sat
Relatives Military
Regiment Colonel

“Await your orders”
Drove three hours around Moscow
Along the beltway

Going back to Moscow
Cemetery out of bounds
Foreign reporters!

I on blackout’s fringe
Why are they holding my spouse?
He’s what a killer?

He’s a criminal?
Eh! Whom are we burying?
My mum: Just be still

She patted my head
“Go into cemetery-”
“Wife’s hysterical”

At cemetery
We: Surrounded by soldiers
We had a convoy

Convoy of coffins
It was just us, none allowed
He covered with earth

Yell: Faster, faster
Could not even hug coffin
And onto the bus

They bought plane tickets
For next day to fly back home
No food for the trip!

God forbid we talk
All towels and sheets counted
Into plastic bags.

Probably were burnt
We paid for dormitory!
For fourteen long nights

At home fell asleep
Ambulance after three days
“Just terrible sleep”

I was twenty-three
Remember the dream I had
Grand mom comes to me:

In her burial clothes
She’s dressing up new-year’s tree
“Grandma, why the tree?”

“It is summer-time”
“Because your love joins me soon”

In woods he grew up
White-robed, he calls for Natasha
Our girl in my womb

Already grown up
They laugh as he throws her up
Simple happiness

Walking and walking
Gives me a sign from up there
Did he say don’t cry?

Moscow two months hence
Station to cemetery
But labour pains start

Start talking to him
Just then ambulance was called
Guskova’s: Gave birth

They showed her to me
Natashenka I called out
Arms, legs looked healthy

Liver cirrhosis
Her liver: 28 rads
Congenital heart

Four hours later dead
They told: Won’t give her to you
Hate your science, hate it.

I keep saying wrong
I should not yell after stroke
Not supposed to cry

That’s why wrong they are
Showed me little wooden box
Cremated ashes

I started crying
I told: Put her at his feet
Nameless grave near his

There’s only his name
She does’nt have a name yet
Hers was just a soul

That “soul” buried there
With two bouquets I go there
One for him my love

The bouquet for her
I put it in the corner
On my knees I crawl

Killed her, she saved me
Took whole radioactive shock
Like a lightning rod

But I loved them both
Can’t kill something with love, right?
Together love death?

Apartments in Kiev
Large building housed all nuke staff
From Chernobyl plant

Two roomed apartment
The kind Vasya and I dreamt
And I was going mad!

Found a spouse and told the truth
One life and one love

Told him everything
We’d meet never in my house
That’s where Vasya was

Worked in candy shop
Make cake tears rolling down cheek
Yet am not crying

Gave birth to a boy
His name Andreii Andreika
Friends tried to stop me

You can’t have a child
Your body can’t handle it
Be missing right arm

Instrument showed it
“He’ll learn to write left handed”
But he came out fine.

I live and breathe him
He understands everything
But is also sick

Many of us here:
They have had bad diseases
They are invalids

Instantly they die
Walking falls down, sleeps, wakes not.
They die, none asked us

Death: None wants to hear
No one asked what we have been through
The tales scare them stiff.

Chernobyl Haikus
by  R. Ashok Kumar

PROLOGUE: A SOLITARY HUMAN VOICE: Lyudmilla Ignatenko, wife of deceased fireman Vastly Ignatenko in
Svetlana Alexievich. 1997. Voices from Chernobyl: 2005.Translation  KEITH GESSEN. DALKEY ARCHIVE PRESS NORMAL • LONDON 
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