The Chernobyl Three


At Chernobyl, man strove to yoke the earth,
and bend the primal elements of it
until they cracked with pure atomic power.
And then the yoke came loose, and all was chaos.

A continent lay sleeping, unaware
that in the frozen north a molten stream
crept ceaselessly toward apocalypse.
Let it touch water, and a poisoned cloud
of steam would pour into the sky above,
an upraised scythe to reach the whole of Europe.

The workers, soldiers, firefighters, all
knew that the plant was poised to blow again.
One valve would stop it, but the way was long.
No man who went into the plant would live.

Three men came forward from the group to volunteer.
Three men to stand between a continent
and certain doom. No statues would be theirs.
Just six feet by four feet of permafrost,
three lead-lined coffins, and their duty done.

Death does not always come in fire and blood.
A brave man stands and does his duty well
when he is called upon to face the sword.
But take away the sword, and send him doom
slow-creeping, with a taste of bitter iron,
and pins and needles prickling at the skin—
the heartiest might quail. But not that day.

In Kiev and Prague, grandmothers walk the streets
and see their children’s children play around them
because the three of Chernobyl gave all.
And somewhere in a quiet Russian field,
three lie at rest, their duty to mankind
now done.