Four Poems

Ode to Chernobyl

They didn’t tell him April was poisonous
when they sent him in to construct a sarcophagus
of concrete over the hot-spot. Perhaps his suit
was unzipped a quarter inch or there was a puncture
in the rubber; the next day he went bald,
the day after that his eyebrows fell off.

To react: respond with hostility, opposition,
or a contrary course of action to.
Reactor No. 4
had a meltdown, lost its damn mind, exploded.
The eerie emission of light coming from X
was a Soviet secret, thirty people
instantly stripped of their skin. In Belarus
everything glowed, the skeletons of towns
and trees, playgrounds empty of children,
wet carpets in hotel rooms. It was rumored
there was a cure, a renewable source of energy
or vodka, wine. Vodka was more accessible

so everyone drank until they were blind
to the mist side-winding through the nuclear
sky outside. To admit it was verboten. In 1986
doctors were forbidden to write “radiation”
on death certificates. Iodine is still hidden
in the lymph nodes of survivors, carrying

the foreshadow of inevitable fallout;
the heart of Europe is now radioactive.

Blue Velvet

Ours tulips are eerie and bright
in front of the white picket-fence
as though they are televised.
In fact, everything in our neighborhood
is entirely believable.

A man is falling to his knees
on the neon grass, ear pressed
to manicured lawn, trespassing
on undercurrents he cannot help but hear.

Parked in a convertible on the edge
of town the dialogue is inscrutable:
I guess what it means is that
there is trouble until the robins come.

Somewhere a child is locked in a closet.
His mother tied to a chair wearing a wig.
On the west side, where we don’t go
the bloodshot lights of the Slow
singe midnight with a warning:
You receive a love letter from me
you’re fucked forever.

A killer is on the loose somewhere
perhaps in that nondescript building
down the street, rocking himself to sleep
as he chants his mother’s name.

Outside, the blue velvet night is draped
over us like a hood, the blown
out candle tallow still smoldering
as we claw at each other on the floor.

The Dog Days

“Goodbye to the arm I bit off, left in your bed” -Mary Biddinger

We bark with the unsheathed teeth
of wounded animals as if scar tissue
still had the scent of blood in it.

Ah, how slutty—the growing
promiscuity of ordinary sorrow.
The way we drool over each

other, frothing at the mouth
like mutts infected with the rabies
of ex-lovers. The leash of past

disaster has got us by the throat
until the next healthy perversion
comes along. Suddenly we’re on

all fours again, panting furiously,
regret unskinned
to the nothing we want to have left

after yes is tossed like a chewed-
through bone into the lost
and found of ransacked sheets.

We’ve been stripped of our howl
reduced to growling futilely
at a moon that now belongs to the cats

(and they’re not giving it back).
We’ve half-learned obedience,
but every once in awhile we still

like to shit on the floor with a smile.
We keep pissing against the wind,
lifting our legs with the noble soul of dogs.


We were busting out, bad-assing it
to brighter lights we could bang
our heads against. We were going to
climb the fire escape, scream
the secret from the rooftops.
It didn’t matter whether spleen
or smile was out of breath
on fire or spite as long as we were
within touching distance of fearless.

It was all green-light-go on the edge
of rambunctious nights, the lock-
picking moonlight keying panic
into our little parked hearts.
Until yellow, until we broke down
on the side of our oncoming lives,
got lost in the blind spots,
U-turns confused us. In retrospect,
it still seems impossible to drive
inside those lines. Now we’re speeding
toward inevitable in the land of Nevermind,
dirty-looked to death by stop signs.

Gone wrong suddenly as if suddenness
were a contagious we’d like to catch more often.
Remember how light lit us up like that?
The blinking? The fantastic blinking?
How we blinked and blinked and blinked.

Jessi Lee Gaylord is a writer in Chicago. Her work has been published in Another Chicago Magazine, After Hours, Spoon River Poetry Review, and others.

%d bloggers like this: