Spring, 1986

by Marek Kazmierski translating from Polish by Wioletta Greg

The night was heavy, but the air was alive.
Mike Oldfield

At night, the Chernobyl cloud fell
across pastures. Thyroids swelled.
The pond glowed with murmuring iodine,
swallows kissing crooked mirrors.

The radio kept playing “Moonlight Shadow”.
In the barn, a girl guide from the city started
a club for virgins. Smoking menthols,
we took lessons in preparing for conjugal
life from copies of Playboy instead.

There would be no other end to the world,
and yet it kept coming, like cramps
and acne, until I discovered
spots of dark blood in my underwear.

Notes on the Poem

On our next Poem of the Week stop through the 2015 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist, we're looking at a selection that charms with its audacity from Finite Formulae & Theories of Chance by Marek Kazmierski, translating from the original poems in Polish by Wioletta Greg. Audacity? How so? Well, would you agree that comparing puberty with the world's most devastating nuclear disaster is bold, to say the least? It's a sly use of hyperbole to juxtapose the human and environmental destruction and contamination of Chernobyl to teenagers awaiting (passing the time "smoking menthols") with their own special cynicism the physical and social milestones marking their march to adulthood. This definition of hyperbole indicates that it can be used in earnest or for comic effect. After the initial jolt, we're seeing both in "Spring, 1986". As "we took lessons in preparing for conjugal life from copies of Playboy instead." ... that hyperbolic comparison perhaps even has a warped touch of Petrarchan conceit to it. Certainly, isn't a dramatic, self-absorbed amplification like this a completely authentic adolescent trait? With a 1980s pop song as epigraph and repeating soundtrack, the effect is complete. As the Griffin Poetry Prize judges remark in their citation for the collection from which this poem is taken, “These poems, as translated from Polish into English by Marek Kazmierski, retain the force of first experience and, equally, a collection of history’s remains."

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