After the explosion came the clean-up:
The firefighters tasked with extinguishing the reactor,
Felt pins and needles on their skin,
Tasted metal in their mouths,
Which later scientists would realize
Were burning radioactive dust particles.
These firefighters stood for hours
In radiation 40 times the lethal dose.
They puked and shit themselves,
Dizzily stumbled around the roof,
Skin inflamed in a strange red rash.
All of them died of radiation poisoning.
And then came the debris clean-up,
They brought in American robots to move objects
With advanced grabber arms and retractable scoopers.
When the robots failed,
Their fragile circuitry fried like onion rings
They sent us into the disaster site
To toss radioactive cylinders with our bare hands
Back into the nuclear reactor pit.
They called us “the bio-robots”.
In the cold nuclear winter, we raced
Across the plant’s roof as if on fire,
We had only one minute at a time to work,
One minute to move a nuclear rod
Or pound stone blocks
Or clear debris from the roof with a tractor.
One minute before seeds of cancer
Bloomed in our guts like flowers.
Helicopter pilots dropped chemicals on the reactor.
Two pilots died of radiation poisoning.
Three men drained boiling radioactive water
From the cooling tanks.
Two of these men died of radiation poisoning.
We raced across the roof like children playing a game.
Bio-robots they called us.
Someone has to do this job, they told us.
We have to be brave and do the work
No one else dares to undertake, they told us.
We are national heroes, they told us.
But years later, while she sleeps next to me,
I run my hand over her curved belly,
Imagining what sort of nightmare monster
I’ve planted inside her,
What three eyed Gollum grows there,
Like a living breathing cancer.
Can I love a brain dead husk?
A half-human half-octopus?
I was so brave back then,
And now I’ve never been more afraid.