Preserve

Marlena Chertock

The Soviet era has been preserved in radiation
for 26 years, in the Zone of Alienation,
the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone,
the sarcophagus.
Words used to make it sound safer,
cleaner, easier to contain.

But radiation spreads fast
and unseen, like a virus
in a preschool class,
a 4-year-old sneezes
and the whole class has the flu
by next week

trees soaked up so much radiation
the bark turned deep red in a nearby forest.
The government had to cut down
and bury the trees.

Relatives of the people buried
in the town’s cemetery
can’t visit. The radioactive core
was also buried there.

There’s a certain
silence
in the abandoned towns.
Even tourists don’t visit.

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