The below post is the eighth in a series of 13 texts related to NOW-ID's inaugural Rite of loosely following the 13 episodes in Stravinsky's score. The author, Liz Ivkovich, is also a dancer in the piece. Get your tickets to the performance here.
Mystic Circles: The Weather In Space
The exclusion zone outside of Chernobyl is a 770 mile wide ring of empty villages that will be uninhabitable for thousands of years.
Hours after the 1986 explosion, a Soviet team flew their helicopter around this circle to try to figure out what the hell had happened and measure active radiation contamination. The pilot spotted a strange looking cloud and flew towards it. “Large beads of liquid began to form on the canopy [of the helicopter]. At first, [the pilot] thought it was rain. But then he noticed that it wasn’t breaking over the glass like water: instead, it was strange, heavy, and viscous. It flowed slowly like jelly and then evaporated, leaving a salty-looking residue. And the sky remained clear…”*
It was a cloud of radioactive particles.
A circle blurs origin point and return, as mystic blurs supernatural and earthly. When I read “mystic circle”, I picture this cloud of radioactive particles landing softly as dust in an ever-widening loop around Chernobyl. This mystic circle is not innocuous. Stacy Alaimo says “... the environment, which is too often imagined as inert, empty space or as a resource for human use, is, in fact, a world of fleshy beings with their own needs, claims, and actions.”**
These radioactive fleshy beings surely have their own needs, claims, and actions that we cannot know. If I see them through this lens, Tracy K. Smith’s poem The Weather in Space gives me the creeps.
The Weather in Space
Is God being or pure force? The wind
Or what commands it? When our lives slow
And we can hold all that we love, it sprawls
In our laps like a gangly doll. When the storm
Kicks up and nothing is ours, we go chasing
After all we’re certain to lose, so alive—
Faces radiant with panic
*From Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham
**From Bodily Natures: Nature, Environment, and the Material Self