can we forget that flash?
suddenly 30,000 in the streets disappeared
in the crushed depths of darkness
the shrieks of 50,000 died out
when the swirling yellow smoke thinned
buildings split, bridges collapsed
packed trains rested singed
and a shoreless accumulation of rubble and embers - Hiroshima
before long, a line of naked bodies walking in groups, crying
with skin hanging down like rags
hands on chests
stamping on crumbled brain matter
burnt clothing covering hips
corpses lie on the parade ground like stone images of Jizo, dispersed in all
on the banks of the river, lying one on top of another, a group that had crawled to
a tethered raft
also gradually transformed into corpses beneath the sun's scorching rays
and in the light of the flames that pierced the evening sky
the place where mother and younger brother were pinned under alive
also was engulfed in flames
and when the morning sun shone on a group of high-school girls
who had fled and were lying
on the floor of the armory, in excrement
their bellies swollen, one eye crushed, half their bodies raw flesh with skin ripped
off, hairless, impossible to tell who was who
all had stopped moving
in a stagnant, offensive smell
the only sound the wings of flies buzzing around metal basins
city of 300,000
can we forget that silence?
in that stillness
the powerful appeal
of the white eye sockets of the wives and children who did not return home
that tore apart our hearts
can it be forgotten?!
TŌGE Sankichi (1917 – 1953) was a Japanese poet, activist and survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. His collection “Poems of the Atomic Bomb” was published in 1951. Karen Thornber is a recipient of the 2011 Sibley Prize from the University of Chicago for her translation of that collection.
From the sky in the form of snow
comes the great forgiveness.
Rain grown soft, the flakes descend
and rest; they nestle close, each one
arrived, welcomed and then at home.
If the sky lets go some day and I'm
requested for such volunteering
toward so clean a message, I’ll come.
The world goes on and while friends touch down
beside me, I too will come.
William Stafford (1914-1993) was a conscientious objector in World War II and worked in the civilian public service camps. Later, he taught at Lewis and Clark College and published more than 65 books of poems. In 1970 he served as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.
Night in the basement of a concrete structure now in ruins.
Victims of the atomic bomb jammed the room;
It was dark—not even a single candle.
The smell of fresh blood, the stench of death,
The closeness of sweaty people, the moans.
From out of all that, lo and behold, a voice:
"The baby’s coming!"
In that hellish basement,
At that very moment, a young woman had gone into labour.
In the dark, without a single match, what to do?
People forgot their own pains, worried about her.
And then: "I'm a midwife. I’ll help with the birth."
The speaker, seriously injured herself, had been moaning only moments before.
And so new life was born in the dark of that pit of hell.
And so the midwife died before dawn, still bathed in blood.
Let us be midwives!
Let us be midwives!
Even if we lay down our own lives to do so.
Sadako Kurihara (1913 – 2005) was a poet, writer and peace activist who survived the Hiroshima bombing. “Let Us Be Midwives” was based on her experience in a shelter in the aftermath of the bombing. (In reality, the midwife survived and was later able to meet the child she had delivered.) Translator Richard Minear is professor emeritus at UMass Amherst.
Why did such terrible events
catch my eye? After Hiroshima,
I turned the picture in Life around
in circles, trying to figure out this huge
wheel in the middle of the air, how it turned,
like a ferris wheel, its lights
burning like eyes.
The atom spinning
on course over the sleeping
vulnerable planet. I turned it the way one might
turn a kaleidoscope or prism. Even then I
knew about the town lying under,
like a child sleeping under the
watchful gaze of a rapist, before the spasm of
stopped breath, the closure at the
scream of the throat, before the body is awakened
along its shocked spine to bursting
light, the legs closing, the arms,
like a chilled flower. That eye, that spinning eye
seeking the combustible.
This was a heat
I had felt already in our house on Norwood.
looked green, placid as a green field,
predictable as machinery — an antique clock.
This was the instant
the fiery atom stuck
as if under the control of the artist
before it spilled and became irretrievable.
Could it be sucked back
in its lead bag, the doors of the underbelly slammed,
and those men who would go on to
suicide and madness, go on instead
to become lovers, priests, Buddhist
smilers and scholars, gardeners in the small plots
of contained passion?
Toi Derricotte (b. 1941) has published five collections of poetry and is Professor Emerita at the University of Pittsburgh. A winner of numerous awards including the 2012 PEN/Voelcker prize, Derricotte was a co-founder of Cave Canem Foundation, a summer workshop for African-American poets.