Prypiat – Still Life – Oksana Zabuzhko (tr. Lisa Sapinkopf)

The room is empty. / No witnesses. / But someone was here.

It’s both alien and fascinating to try and think about what people will think of us when we are gone—even the idea of someone existing in one of my vacated past apartments strikes me as odd.

That this is about Pripyat, the site of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, also brings in the thought of the far-flung future; while Pripyat is now a ghost town despite being relatively benign now, the places where we leave our nuclear waste need to leave signs for whatever society will look like ten thousand years in the future to let them know of the danger. But here—the signs left over are personal. A half-finished sweater, a full ashtray, tears shed.

Something like: this place is a message, and part of a system of messages—pay attention to it, but not about what we were afraid of, but for once about how we lived, and what we loved, and who we were. How do we pass on those things? Zabuzhko’s former occupants of the house feel like they only just left: On the floor by the armchair an apple, / Bitten but not brown.

How do we preserve these things? These days it’s so easy to publish everything perfectly synced into the cloud, but at the same time others are discussing what fears they have about the double-edged sword of unchecked technology, of what happens in the event of a disaster. What happens when the servers are gone? Absent that: where are the monuments to our lives? I’m not sure I have an answer yet.

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