by Iryna Zhylenko, 1990

Now back to the chores. Rake out the ashes.
Start the fire. Sweep away the cobwebs...
And cook some potatoes for dinner.
Dead or alive – I’m still the housekeeper.
Dead or alive – I’m still the mother.
I come out of a deep dark depression,
to feed my little son
to tell him a fairy tale about happiness.
... Joy fills my lungs --
as my son offers me a chrysanthemum through the window.
But a raven’s voice is already counting out the dose of radiation.
“Wash you hands, wash your hands, my son...”
“Mom, a kitten. How sweet.
You’re such a poor little dirty stray...”
The clock starts to beat out the doses of radiation:
Wash you hands! Wash your hand! Wash your hands!
“Mom, please let me go play in the sand.
The kids are burying the reactor.
Don’t worry – it’s just a hunk of metal.
Granddad caught some crayfish
And treated me to some. They were great.
Why is everything we eat canned, canned, canned?
Mom, don't cry?
Did I make you mad?”
“I’m not crying. It's just the smoke....”
“It’s smoky because no one’s swept the chimney.
....And why can’t we go pick mushrooms?
Autumn will be over soon.”
“Where did you lose that button?”
“How would I know...”
And off he ran. Grabbing the shovel
and pail on the sly. To the sandlot?
My heart beats out the doses of radiation
On every grain of sand,
On every little weed....


Note: After the Chornobyl accidents people believed that the highest concentration of radioactive particles was present in sand, dirt, chimney soot, seafood, flowers and mushrooms.

translated from the Ukrainian by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps

zhy2.doc 9/27/07

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