Jennifer Sperry Steinorth

Dear Recovery

April 26, 20XX, Chernobyl
  • Though we have not seen
  • the red deer
  • our instruments
  • will testify
  • There are wolves
  • like nothing happened
  • Bank voles
  • are cigar-looking
  • cigar-shaped things1
  • like Potter to George B
  • in Capra-esque
  • villainy
  • The voles are radioactive
  • scream Geiger
  • at the counter
  • but if there’s genetic mutation
  • it’s a needle
  • in the Pacific
  • Or possibly a Genesis
  • Tests prove
  • to be convincing:
  • There are false hoods
  • warm enough to be left
  • unzipped:
  • an unbuttoned
  • fleece:
  • moose too
  • act
  • normal
  • On the other hand:
  • that new Ferris wheel
  • in Prypiat?
  • The amusement park
  • is not in dispute
  • Nor the 33,000
  • rose bushes unbloomed
  • the 150,000
  • elective abortions
  • Birth defects in the remaining were normal
  • to some
  • As in:
  • expected regardless of trauma
  • Common
  • as in:
  • of average defect
  • Except
  • don’t watch
  • the slideshow
  • It will not correspond
  • (The response
  • being delayed)
  • to data which has been stretched
  • across the bias
  • of the cloth
  • Which runs diagonal
  • to the grain
  • The grain
  • is unadvisable
  • for bread
  • but may be fed to dairy
  • and other ungulate livestock
  • Studies also show that we
  • { insert # here
  • to make
  • sentence which =
  • eating locally-harvested radio-active
  • mushrooms and is
  • < the sum of lack
  • There are
  • many different kinds of milk and children
  • should choose wisely:
  • 2% and skim
  • Whole and past-
  • eurized Homogenized Fortified Raw Enriched
  • Condensed
  • Evaporated
  • Cow
  • This is the atom of peace
  • Iodine to the thyroid
  • and one
  • hundred percent
  • optimistic
  • Except in pediatrics:
  • (Malignant and
  • benign
  • malignant and pastry
  • malignant and vigorous
  • jelly-filled)
  • 700,000 people
  • who were children
  • Communists
  • who were voles
  • Harvard scientists
  • 50% among Leukemia
  • Certainly
  • Periphery
  • or Cavalier Denial
  • Otherwise hysteria
  • Swiftly
  • to each stage
  • In a related story
  • the thyroid
  • is shaped like
  • a benevolent
  • monarch
  • butterfly
  • Butterflies
  • may be altered
  • in the pre-
  • cursive stages
  • That is
  • while still printing
  • Results contain violence
  • unacceptable for some viewers
  • In a related story:
  • Japan:
  • Observe a safe distance
  • Research reveals
  • redundancies
  • Detailed and
  • easy to understand
  • information about the thyroid is hard
  • elusive
  • and I
  • find myself
  • having to
  • refer to my
  • anatomy2
  • See illustration
  • See infestation
  • No child
  • under the age of five may ride without an adult
  • Please
  • keep arms and legs
  • Please keep arms
  • and legs inside
  • the cart at all times
  • secure your
  • belongings
  • Other
  • wise hysteria Swiftly
  • against the pavement
  • Swiftly
  • with whipped cream
  • In the end
  • which ranges
  • from 34 million
  • who are altered is not
  • definitive
  • In the end
  • who isn’t altered
  • will meet the same end
  • Before
  • we are sentenced
  • to a capitalized fragment
  • Before is
  • a kind of
  • prayer
  • From
  • up there
  • we can see all
  • the way to the half-life
  • The carriage
  • rocking us
  • high as a cradle
  • The way
  • down
  • we go backwards The way
  • down we can see
  • the metal spokes
  • turning
  • In the city of Prypiat
  • stands a pair
  • of Ferris wheels
  • There is one
  • no one has ridden
  • There is one
  • no one gets off

  • 1Description of bank voles by biologist Dr. Robert Baker in an NPR interview entitled Chernobyl’s Hot Zone Holds Some Surprises, March 6th, 2011.

    2from the article What does the Thyroid do? as posted on


    O Ants, delicate Ants, undertaking cardinal pilgrimage,

    crossing sand-colored floors, up wall, to our unwashed china—

    You chain so fine a necklace, I

    admit it, I am entranced.


    It is a vulgar word. Primitive lineage?— I ought not mention—

    only— your insurgence, it seems

    unending; something must be done: we trace you back

    to our oldest. Potted.


    And heaving it up out pours larvae, as

    from a pierced bag of rice— well, it won’t be the first extinction

    in my kitchen.

    Hauling out the afflicted pot, trailing your fever of pearls,

    I know the babes remaining can’t

    be spared.

    Even as jet-jeweled soldiers race to save their swaddled children

    falls the shadow

    of my husband bearing

    the poison


    Absolute Power

    I’m scrubbing
    the black

    of our cast

    iron pot—
    the charred

    our mannered dogs

    have not licked off

    I think—
    as I scrub

    with my hand-
    eating sponge

    if they were hungrier

    would be easier.


    I can put lotion on my arms. I can
    put lotion on my arms, dry in the fall,
    though today, like a summer, it’s hot
    in northern Michigan. And I can wear
    sleeveless camisoles to work, where I drive
    in my own car, though, times are tough—this—
    the second of three jobs. In the car,

    In the car, I heard of a boy who said
    NO to the al Shabab, taken
    to a crowded stadium where they
    chopped off his hands. After he came to,

    they removed a foot. I can put
    lotion on my arms here at work; I can
    pick my arms up, I can pick my arms up

    and rub the gelatin into my skin.
    The lipid tincture soothes as it lubricates,
    but it’s the fragrance, that sweet ambrosia
    that’s so intoxicating.

    The reporter tinkling through the road noise
    of my Subaru is a blue Blue Fairy;
    she is making the little Arab
    a real, real boy. But for his wooden
    puppet hands and foot—Well, it’s not like he’s good—
    good as new—but he’s planning to be

    a scholar and he can’t wait, can’t wait
    to play soccer, as they do in Sweden
    or whichever Baltic they took him to.
    Soccer! I think ( Look Ma! ) but that can’t
    hardly be fair: he’s got no hands, no hands
    for a federation ball to foul.

    If the boy is a real boy, boy, he has
    feelings: itchy skin at the butt ends,
    phantom limbs. As kids we stalked lizards,
    caught mostly their tails, scaly whips; a bit,
    a little bit horrified by our prize.

    In the German tale, Pinocchio
    suffers all manner of torture; the torture
    makes him real, makes him cry. What do I know

    of tears?—I’m no anthropologist!
    Who lops the arms of a boy, shears the tarp
    of his skin, the fingertips that brushed
    his mother’s cheek? I’ve got kids— get a grip!

    what a grip! we say, of the newborn baby,
    what a fine grip bringing down the machete.

    Pinocchio—the original,
    from the German—was a little shite,
    stomping his Jiminy Cricket conscience—
    Jesus Christ! But whether the loss was
    tragic, I couldn’t say, I couldn’t say—
    I’ve only seen the Walt Disney version.

    Every species is capable, (capable!)
    of some kind of regeneration,
    here, in this bottle, in this bottle here, is mine:
    Avalon Organics for Body & Hands
    with Beta Glucan and rosemary tears.
    In my low-lit lobby cubical
    I keep the bottle behind the monitor,
    it’s got a pump-top—a sec, a sec
    to work into my skin. The miracle cream
    relieves my reptilian arms, but
    it’s the smell of pummel of pummeled flowers
    that’s truly regenerating.

    Forgive me. I am a liar. I wept
    for the boy. So? My weeping was spurred
    by the smell, the smell of my comfort. So?
    The boy did not dry my eyes. He’s miles
    away in a cold place, sitting on Danish
    modern furniture the color of sand—
    the color of the place he left his hands—

    where his hands fell with a dull thud and were tossed
    in an earthen sink with other rent bits
    of soiled cloth. The boy did not press
    together the nubs, the nubs of his arms
    and lift to my damp lashes a handkerchief.
    His life goes on and on. He reads a book,
    he falls asleep. He learns to work his arms

    through the long sleeves. His face, face,
    his dark eyes, eyes I’ll never see, the boy
    whose hands—whose hands cut the boy free.

    This Side of the Fair Grounds

    Say you’re one of those lucky enough
    to live the good life—raspberry blood
    in the gravel—more fruit than you can bear
    and the larder stocked with jam—Say you
    hammock-lounge in an August not yet exhausted—
    while a Bombay cat hunts in the wood stack
    and mating cardinals chirp in the firs, say
    your particular sky— you’re sure— is bluer
    than any sea—you live by the sea!—
    on a pink hill, a gray town humming the swale
    between, would you say your longing is just

    the longing
    for longing?—

    like leaves that green and green and green till it’s time
    for bed? And when the day that will come comes—
    strange as a bruise you can’t explain or
    swift as a hammer swing—a once blonde curled
    in her house alone, contemplating unknown
    relations, arms fixed to the table she won
    in a raffle, decades ago—her name
    from a hat, easy as that—can you believe
    the luck—just a buck for the paper ticket,
    number 874—what will you give
    nothing you can can even the score—

    Jennifer Sperry Steinorth is a poet, educator, collaborative artist, and licensed builder. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly, The Colorado Review, the Collagist, Four Way Review, jubilat, Michigan Quarterly Review, Mid-American Review, and elsewhere. A chapbook, Forking the Swift, was published in 2010. In 2015, she was a Tennessee Williams Scholar at Sewanee Writers Conference and is this year’s Writers@Work Poetry Fellow. She lives in northern Michigan and works at Interlochen Center for the Arts.