Chernobyl Exclusion Zone


Once upon a time a captive Cossack
spied a Tatar sorcerer eating snake

partook of the flesh

awoke to the language of plants
a herb proclaiming

I am for the black sickness

but the vermifugal power of bitter plants
couldn’t purge Chernobyl’s evil spirits

radioactive plague felled
a thriving city

The Exclusion Zone harbours ruins
a power plant sarcophagus
wild animals and forbidden fruit

warns visitors not to consume food in the open air


чорнобиль is Ukrainian black grass
Artemisia vulgaris

cousin to wormwood

a biblical symbol of bitterness
sorrow and calamity



Monument of the Third Angel
tribute to the fallen


Sculpture by Ukrainian artist Anatoly Haidamaka. Photo by Serie Barford,                     May 2019, Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, Ukraine.

And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning
as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the
fountains of waters; And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the
third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the                   waters, because they were made bitter.

Revelation 8:10-11


Beguiling dogs grin at Russian soldiers

descendants of radioactive survivors
wolves hound these feral mutts through winter

I ache to scrunch their droopy Yoda ears
plough fingers through mottled fur
check dosimeter tags for chemical exposure

I’ve also ingested hazardous fallout

radioactive isotopes illuminated my armpit
revealed biological bombs on short fuses
lymph nodes dancing a cancerous fandango

Don’t touch the dogs   the guide warns
Lunch is at the canteen
Follow me

We pass through radiation detectors
queue with maintenance workers for fodder

when you’re flying home to chemo and radiotherapy

patting a stray dog at Chernobyl
is perversely desirable

a quick comfort fix
sensibly denied

life is precious

on both sides of the equator


I dreamt of falling angels bypassing asteroids
petulant deities
the whipping tails of comets

tangled feathers trailed like cornsilk sails

quills slipped through window casements

pierced black holes

my eyes

dislodged chemo-laced lashes

tiny black sickles
rained on my pillow

smudged the sun

Serie Barford was born in Aotearoa to a migrant German-Samoan mother from Lotofaga and a Palagi father. In 2018 she was the recipient of a Pasifika residency at the Michael King Writers Centre. In 2019 Serie performed and promoted her collections 'Tapa Talk' (Huia) and 'Entangled Islands' (Anahera) at an international book festival in Kiev, Ukraine. The Ukrainian version of TapaTalk (Krok)  was launched at the festival. Her latest poetry collection, 'Sleeping With Stones', will be published by Anahera Press. Serie is currently writing about The Casualisation of Toto\Blood in the Western Medical System.