ON WRITING FROM THE EXCLUSION ZONE / PART I: THE LINE
On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurred. It produced radiation effects approximately four hundred times more powerful than the 1945 atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. What follows is a brief excerpt from a larger essay about the Exclusion Zone in Pripyat, Ukraine (Chernobyl).
When applying for special research clearance in Chernobyl, such as eco-poetic research, heading the official form, in janky script, ghost-webbed over by many ancestral photocopies, it states: Your Application to Be Excluded.
Graphite is an important material for the construction of both historical and modern nuclear reactors as it is one of the purest materials manufactured at industrial scale and it retains its properties at high temperatures. (Gareth B. Neighbour, Management of Ageing in Graphite Reactor Cores; 2007)
We saw graphite scattered about. Misha asked: "Is that graphite?" I kicked it away. But one of the fighters on the other truck picked it up. "It's hot," he said...Then those boys…they went up to the roof, they went up the ladder...and I never saw them again. (Grigori Khmel, first responder, Chernobyl)
It's like throwing a handful of fine graphite dust on a piece of paper to see where the hidden indentations are. It lets you see the words that were written on the piece of paper above it that's now been taken away and hidden. (Douglas Adams)
Graphite, aerial, swaths down
and sticks to the crossroads. This lumen blooms
in fundamental pitch, slides sheen into the slip, towards a
gentle slope, in a field, the effervescent lumen transmigrating.
Accrual becomes mattered:
stitches congregate into the line. Above,
a jagged edge calibrated to past and future ruptures. And inside
the area thus created, a smaller version of itself. A memory
hardened into future fuels, emanation’s proof, both.
Meanwhile a Biwa Lake Tree matures to fruition.
Perfect for animating the winds. Its bouquet is resilient,
if pressed upon, it springs back.
The abysmal lip: eroded as an old hung fang. Walking the plank, the abyss is less dense than imagined. At the edge of its Cadillac wide-assed swerving toward the vanishing point we could do as others have done. We could work this lip into land, we could settle the territory. A voice from somewhere, we don’t know where, says ancient history the story of the twelve tribes I’m bored tell me something I don’t know don’t let the door hit you where the good lord split you, this goddamned screwball comedy in which our births map the thirty-eight slots of a roulette wheel. The story of a tomb-keeper heir to a kingdom though she doesn’t know it. In which Odin hung from an Ash tree. The laborious opera concerning how we came to name the eternal. The glitch in the episodic situating the theme. The exquisite cold of being disregarded. The disgust of things feral. The shining hatred.
The line emits frequency. Vibrational waves that appear, in some dimensions, as humming chevron patterns. The frequency’s edge, feathered through by ten thousand horizontal eyes en-gridding, as if ten thousand glass plates were stacked and everything was seen through this lens. There is only frequency. And the patterns it creates. A dust mote footnoting the invisible. Here is what a fetal heartbeat looks like on a monitor in a county hospital in 1986.
The line curves as a sweetheart neckline curves. It remembers that a reclining woman breathes. The larger shape is also that of a folding fan, if slightly open. In the bottom of each fold, a deep ravine. From one such ravine, a gray emergence, a graphite mound. The reclining woman posits the exquisite fan over her navel, shielding the passage that leads to the text. In the other world everything also exists. But in versions complicated by the softness that dissolution makes. Graphite writes its likeness. The portrait reaches into another hole inside of the one we are in. Erasure saturation is the line lining itself over. The portrait’s hand makes shadow shapes behind the backlit sheet: here is a crow and here is a murder.
Failed punctums as recognized in the old-timey valley of death feeling. Proof that when conditions are conducive, expression unfurls, fern like. Accidents constitute the small town in the Hospitality State. On top of a botched remain, an eco-system thrives. Surrounded by white space, shredded and whipped, clouds loom as if in a sticky photograph removed from a crime scene. Can I live here? Is there room for one more? Punctum, one in each eyelid, puncta lacrimalia.
Selah Saterstrom is the author of the novels Slab (forthcoming this Spring), The Meat and Spirit Plan, and The Pink Institution, all published by Coffee House Press. Along with HR Hegnauer, she curates Madame Harriet Presents: an occasional performance series. She is the Director of Creative Writing at the University of Denver.