poetry

Eight Radioactive Tableaux (with Venus and Adonis)

Justin Quinn

There are no clouds. Thunder out of nowhere.
The boar herd at a gallop through the woods.
Haunch to haunch twisting through the brush and weeds
like shoals through seas, like starlings through the air.

A little fazed by people, they steer clear
of Sunday trippers, seeking out deep shades —
the forest still uncut by back-hoe spades.
Like shy actors in the tabloids’ glare.

*                                    

Fig. 2. There are few trees across the plain,
but undergrowth is tall and old and thick.
Small creatures weave through it, the larger trick
the hunt by holding still where they have lain.

He’s come here to a halt, hot on the spoor.
Eye-glint in the brush. Flecked and ruddied
flank behind brown leaves. He has just readied
his stance. He has just raised the point of his spear.

*                                     

Irradiated flesh. They love the ground.
Their snouts sift through its microscopic germs,
searching for tubers, roots, bulbs and earthworms.
They love the acorns and the nuts strewn round.

Rainstorms turning the floor to splash and spill.
Or days-long drizzle seeping slowly down
into the earth. Or snowfall by the ton.
From clouds that drifted here from Chernobyl.

*                                     

He misses and the tusk unzips his thigh.
An inch or two over, he would have killed her.
The ground and trees are suddenly out of kilter.
Caught in their sickening twist, he knows he’ll die.

Boar: as though its stench, rank and fierce,
is pressing into him and leaves no room
for even breath. All of the forest’s gloom
come to a point in its blunt, bristling force.

*                                     

It looks like urban wasteland anywhere:
the sunlight flooding through the damaged ceilings;
where there were cars and people, now there’s silence;
living rooms and shop floors are open air.

But this is all fenced off. A military post,
well-staffed, stands at the entrance to the Zone.
For all the books and studies, it’s not known
whether they guard the future or the past.

*                                     

Now his lover is arriving, first
of all the others. His eyes are turning dim.
The life is suddenly rushing out of him,
— flustered, detailed — surging through the forest

into the sky. A cataclysmic moan
is coming from her body like a wave
that wants to seize him from the new-made grave.
(She is a god, whatever that might mean.)

*                                     

The catfish in the cooling pond have grown
to monstrous lengths as they’ve no predators.
The boars graze brazenly — not even tours
can faze them in the 30 Kilometer Zone.

Safety procedures are more finely grained
across the world, signed off by ministers.
Fig. 7. There are yellow canisters
bricked up 500 meters in the ground.                                  

*

She is raising her arms. She is begging
the very ground to break itself in two.
She is screaming at the other gods: undo
this death. Undo this death. She is wrecking

and ripping up the oak, the pine and olive.
Now she’s staring at the lichen and the moss.
Now she’s staring at the aphids and the mice.
She is wondering why any of these are alive.

Justin Quinn is a poet and translator who lives in Prague. He is the author of Early House, and translations of the Czech poet Bohuslav Reynek, among other work.
Originally published:
July 1, 2019

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