Point and Shoot
Red, encased in plastic, the geiger counter is small enough
it fits my palm. The characters on its monochromatic LCD screen
like the elongated, hexagonal bars on any wristwatch
or calculator. Keeping pace with the urgency of its chitter, my pulse.
Stucco, biomass. Open air. Everwhere I point
the instrument increases its frequency and pitch with sieverts,
the roentgens bound within their atoms.
I am told not to snap pictures of the horror, instead only hold the geiger counter
like a camera phone towards it. And so I aim it at Forest Wormwood,
and I aim it at the ground where contamination has settled,
rising again through hard-packed tundra as leachate. I aim the instrument
at the unused ferris wheel still bright as a sunflower whose petal tips
have silvered in the nitrogen of twenty-five years. I aim it at snow-caked
bumper cars still in positions of post-collision. I aim the instrument
at the black-and-gray disaster monument erupting from the earth: Two hands
palming a reactor. I aim it at Reactor Four a hundred meters behind,
still leaking through its pores and rivets, and in all the places the sarcophagus'
lead panels have fallen in. I aim it at the collie mutt Oksana calls 'Cherny',
or 'Number Four', she shares her bologna sandwich with. I ruffle his ears,
and then I aim it at my hand to show I am afraid. I aim the instrument
at the rusted-out volkswagen camper on a building's roof, positioned diagonally
across the corner parapets. At the highrises, mirroring each other
except for the contrasting flags of Russia and of the USSR crowning them.
Two-headed eagle, one head's tongue lolls over its beak toward the peasant's
hammer and sickle atop the other tower. I take aim at statues. At Marx's
Westward gaze, and at Lenin's lithified, enormous brainpan. I aim the instrument
in places I do not have permission to enter so that my arms are leaden
with trespass. At the boxing ring, rotting, in the octagon room
and at the busted safe on its side in the sacked supermarket. But not there.
Not at Fire Brigade No. 2. Not at the bay doors, rolled up on an empty bay,
or the red pumpers and tenders- gone now to the vehicle graveyard in Rassokha
where they rot below ground- or pin-ups of American super-models
now finding religion as their bodies continue failing them. A skull-shaped hole
in the drywall. Heaped in the sub-floor maintenance pit- vodka bottles.
I lower the instrument's accusing finger. It won't change anything. I'm done
selling what we get every day for free in this place where my brothers
breathed this living that those who've never been jarred awake by the bell
might call work. Neither do I aim it out front at the monument to the firemen
who died on April twenty-sixth, this country's nine-eleven. Six traded themselves
for the one-hundred and eighty others, the population beyond. I brace myself
against the nozzle of the one closest to the monument's centerpiece
as if my weight could stay his blitz into no future. The granite, like what it means
choosing this life, is stone cursing them to forever rush into the black
hazarded with rebar and twisted metal. Toward any flickering, billow,
or plume. A muffled cry. Sparks in the night. A reactor stack, in miniature.