Monday, January 7, 2008


From the Archives

(April 2006) The New York Times recognizes today’s somber twenty-year anniversary with an interactive “Chernobyl’s Legacy: 20 Years Later” online exhibit that includes these observations:

We all know what Chernobyl is, what an atomic plant is, but I’ll tell you how we saw it. An enemy had come to our country. We had to defend ourselves. And we set out to protect our country, our people. We all had those feelings, all of us in the 100-man brigade (that initially went in to create the sarcophage). But of course it differed from a real war. In a real war, shells explode, bullets fly, bodies fall, blood flows. Here, the sun was shining overhead. Beautiful gardens stood all around, bulging with fruit. Birds were singing. You couldn’t possibly have imagined that all this was death.—Arkady Rokhlin, Nuclear Engineer and one of the Chernobyl liquidators

In war you know where you are, where the neutral territory is, where the enemy is, where the plane is, how its bombing you, how its chasing you, how it catches you. There you couldn’t see the enemy. You see it when you’re burned already. When you’re a corpse. It’s invisible. It’s everywhere and nowhere.—Constantin Baskin, Nuclear Systems Specialist

Your soul is covered in blood. You want to cry, but you can’t.—Leonid Shavray, Chernobyl firefighter

This reminds me of a poignant poem that French surrealist and working-class hero Jacques Prévert wrote during his military service in WWII.

(translated by Harriet Zinnes and published in Carolyn Forché’s Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness)

Remember Barbara
It rained without letup in Brest that day
And you walked smiling
Glowing ravishing drenched
Under the rain
Remember Barbara
It rained without letup in Brest
And I passed you on the Rue de Siam
You smiled
And I smiled too
Remember Barbara
You whom I did not know
You who did not know me
Remember that day just the same
Do not forget
A man was taking shelter in a doorway
And he called out your name
And you ran toward him in the rain
Drenched ravishing glowing
And you threw yourself into his arms
Remember that Barbara
And do not be angry with me if I call you by your first name
I call all those I love by their first names
Even if I have met them only once
I call all who love by their first names
Even if I do not know them
Remember Barbara
Do not forget
That gentle, happy rain
On your happy face
On that happy town
That rain on the sea
On the arsenal
On the boat of Ouessant

Oh Barbara
What shit war is
What has become of you now
Under the rain of iron
Of fire of steel of blood
And he who held you in his arms
Is he dead missing or still living
Oh Barbara
It rains without letup in Brest
As it rained before
But it is not the same everything is ruined
It is a rain of mourning terrible and desolate
No longer even a storm
Of iron of steel of blood
Only of clouds
That burst
And disappear like dogs
Down the streams of Brest
Like dogs that will rot far away
Far away very far from Brest
Of which there is nothing left

If it’s raining for the fourth day in a row tomorrow, then I will probably hang out in a café and write another entry before I get on the plane. Otherwise, I’ll be back late next week with plenty of stories from NYC.

Now, however, I'm going to a play.


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