Daniel G. Snethen
is an educator, naturalist and poet residing on the Pine Ridge Reservation in Kyle, SD. He teaches indigenous youth at Little Wound High School. Snethen’s favorite piece of literature is Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. He has coached two students as finalists in the National Poetry Out Loud Competition. Snethen’s advice to all poets is two-fold: write about that which you know and be not afraid to bare your soul.
Thirty years old now, the irradiated
Soviet wasteland has become
an unprecedented Ukrainian Garden of Eden.
The boreal forest flourishes
and the concrete buildings have become
jagged escarpment for climbing vines
and cliff nesting raptors.
Moose, red deer and roe buck
have claimed these woods
along with hares, wild boars
badgers, bison and brown bears.
Barn swallows, cuckoos,
swans, owls, bats and other
winged creatures navigate
the cesium-contaminated forest.
Mutations occur and radioactive
accumulation in the tissues of voles
will likely cause some mortality
to feasting predatory carnivores.
But, the wolf population, hunting
the 16,000 square miles of exclusion zone,
is greater now than when humans
inhabited it—with numbers exceeding
those of the packs of Yellowstone.
And endangered equine specters
of Przewalski’s horses
lurk in the radiated ruins of Chernobyl.