New work from Robert Hilles for Poetry Month 2021
From God’s Angle. A dedication to physics and metaphysics, From God’s Angle is a narrative of the Chernobyl disaster and the nearly thirty-five years that have passed since. Exploring the impact Chernobyl had on the people and the ecosystem, Hilles also delves into the various nuances of particle physics to marry the human experience with the scientific. This collection is unique and compelling. Moments in the poems seem to bleed into our own shared experience of isolation and social distancing as a result of the current pandemic.
Look for it on our website and in bookstores on September 21, 2021!
The radiation fallout in Gomel Belarus right after the Chernobyl accident did the most damage to the unborn and children under the age of sixteen. Their youthful thyroid glands were able to absorb significant amounts of radiative iodine. This led to a spike in thyroid cancers amongst children. You watch a woman in her eighties who still lives in her house in the radioactive zone. She refused to leave after the disaster and continues to pick and eat the mushrooms in the forest around her house. They are radioactive and so is her well water, but she survives. To spend even a few hours in this zone is dangerous and yet she lives here and will stay until she dies. An invisible enemy thrives internally and travels an eternal night as fast as light but settles into bone and marrow. Even the sun is dark at its core but the radiation from it shoots out in fiery arcs that send waves undulating into space. What does it mean to hear such sounds in the dead of night? The old woman knows the answer but doesn’t say. She moves about her house as she must have when her husband and son were alive. She says they didn’t die from the radiation and she won’t either.
The first Chernobyl dead were buried in zinc coffins so the radiation from their decaying bodies didn’t leach into the soil. The coffins arrived at night on flatbed trucks from Kiev. The dead were buried quickly so their bodies couldn’t contaminate others. This was the first scar. There were many others. A front-end loader dug a long trench for a mass grave and then each coffin was lowered into it by a crane. Everyone including the crane operator wore protective gear so that they looked like they had landed in a spaceship, and in a way they had. They were alien to all of this.
Those buried had been firefighters, police officers, and plant workers. The coffins were welded shut to prevent any risk of contamination leaking into the soil. Few words were said that day. Loved ones were kept at a safe distance as cement was poured around the coffins too. It had to be done.
A thousand years from now someone may ask who were the heroes? Who were the brave ones? Did it work?
You recognize this house in Belarus from your childhood. Yours was at Longbow Lake in Ontario but was also later abandoned and collapsed in on itself. There was no radioactive air at Longbow Lake but there is the same leaning outhouse, the same overgrown road leading to the house. As a boy you would sit on your bed and wonder where the exact middle was. You weren’t sure except that it wasn’t where you were. Not in that house, not on that sagging bed. In time you left in search of it.
In Belarus there is not highway to the farmhouse in the radioactive zone, only a secondary road that no one travels for fear of radiation. You’ve studied Chernobyl and how in the late 1960s and early 1970s they hurried the reactors into production and a new city Pripyat (the atomic city) was constructed only three miles from the reactors. That had been considered far enough away to be safe.
It had five schools, three swimming pools, thirty-five playgrounds, a cinema, and malls.
The farmhouse in Belarus is in a region that has changed very little in eight hundred years. The border between Belarus and Ukraine didn’t stop the radiation after the accident. Late at night that farmhouse in Belarus haunts you and each story is a tunnel into deep, dark earth.