Endurance, 1946

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Endurance, 1946

Unaware of the day’s movements, she paints her
reply to the bracelet of light flaring above

the horizon. Tomorrow’s edict is gather,
as in retrieving a sister’s bones in black

rain, reassembling in thought
a smile that could not endure despite

its beauty. I seek a place
of nourishment and find empty bowls.

What is the symbol for peace, for planet?
How do we relinquish the incinerated voice?

Under the vault of ribs lie exiled words, more
bones, and beneath them, relentless darkness.

And whose bodies mingle in this earth?
Whose tongue withers from disuse?

The eight muscles react to separate stimuli,
four to change shape and four to alter position.

Turning, she places the brush on the sill
and opens the window to the breeze.

Exit the light, exit all prayer. Ten strokes
form breath. She does not taste the wind.

Atomic Bomb Dome_03


45 thoughts on “Endurance, 1946

  1. This is a very lovely poem. but as with all poems about Hiroshima there is the usual misconception that the death of 80,000 Japanese civilians by fire was an isolated event. In truth, the American firebombing campaign began months earlier and burned to death more than half a million Japanese people. B-29s flew over every major Japanese city and dropped napalm-filled bombs on the wooden buildings. This created firestorms that turned vast areas into ash, leaving nothing but death in its wake. By August 6th, 1945, more than 60% of Japan’s urban area was utterly destroyed–not damaged, but gone. Millions were homeless. Every harbor and waterway was larded with mines, and there were plans to mine the hills and farmlands as well as destroying every agricultural area. The war between Japan and the United states was characterized by the most brutal inhumanity on both sides. Isolating a single incident, especially one so spectacular as an atomic blast, is a typically American response. The pain of that was was far deeper than a single explosion. It is good for all of us to keep that in mind, especially when those who have never seen war speak of it as a viable alternative.

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    • Thank you for your thoughtful comments. At the risk of sounding defensive, I must point out that my choice of Hiroshima was not a “typical American response” but rather a poetic response to the challenge of writing about the horrific aftermath of war within a framework of twenty lines, and that your statement “as with all poems about Hiroshima there is the usual misconception that the death of 80,000 Japanese civilians by fire was an isolated event” is off kilter. It seems you carried that misconception with you, and added it to your reading of the piece. Which is valid. We all do that. I count on readers to add bits of themselves to my writing, in hopes that they may take away something in return. You might notice that nowhere in the poem is Hiroshima specifically mentioned.

      The poem very well could have been centered in Europe, but I chose something more familiar – my mother was Japanese, and while her family survived the war mostly intact (one brother died in combat), deprivation was a way of life. So having been raised by one who survived wartime Japan, I am well aware of how the Japanese population was affected by the war, certainly more so than most Americans.

      But enough of the defensive prose!

      War does not bring out the best in humanity. I wholeheartedly agree with your last sentence, and look forward to dipping into Hawser!

      Thanks again for commenting.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you for your kind and thoughtful reply, Robert. I didn’t mean my comment to be a edgy as it came out. I meant to point out that many of the remembrances of Hiroshima fail to take into account the horrible suffering endured by all Japanese during the last years of the war, especially after the March burning of Tokyo. The United States had done such a through and effective job of dehumanizing its enemy that the death of a hundred thousand people in a single night was lauded as a tremendous achievement.. The atomic bomb was, for the mindset of the time, a logical next step. Hirohito and his military advisers spoke glibly of “the hundred million gyokusai,” a suicidal attack by every Japanese that would have resulted in the utter destruction of the nation. That part of the war, which most Americans know little or nothing about, was utterly horrific. Perhaps it is symbolized in the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima, but the reality is so much more awful than that. Your poem, though, is beautiful and poignant. Thanks for writing it.

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  2. R.O., the final stanzas imprint themselves on the mind like a flash on retinas. The image of the mushroom cloud has become so absorbed into our visual lexicon, I fear that its power has already faded. We need words this powerful to fix it in our memories, and bring it back to the present moment; it can so easily happen again.

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  3. Ohhh, Robert, this poem touches me so deeply in a number of ways. “War,” my wife Aiko says, “is for killing people. That’s it!” And in lecture given a few years ago by a representative of the US Embassy in Tokyo, the speaker recounted the losses made by the US and its allies in the Pacific War, saying that he hoped we (the audience) would think about that. Not one word about the appalling losses the Japanese suffered. I was stunned. Several years ago I wrote a short story about a fictional Tokyo artist named Seiji who, at age 8 and living in the Asakusa section of Tokyo, survived the carpet firebombing raids of March, 1945. The story was published in “A Rainbow Feast: New Asian Short Stories” edited by Mohammad A. Quayum and published by Marshall Cavendish Editions in Singapore. I’ve never been able to get that story out of my mind. it’s images still haunt me. Your poem is one that remains in memory. “Wars kill people”, they never solve problems. Thanks again for sharing this beautiful poem.

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  4. very nice, robert. lest we forget there were plenty of atrocities to go around during WW2. “the rape of nanking”, the wholesale murder of civilians in shanghai, the bataan death march, just to name a few. we also fire bombed dresden. the germans? we all know what they did to millions of innocent people. yet there are those among us who say it never happened. i’m sorry but i won’t apologize for what needed to be done on our part during the great war. “war is hell.” it’s you or them. better them than you.

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  5. I have experienced being an American at both Hiroshima and Nagasaki and felt simultaneously appalled and also a wish to see Pearl Harbor. And I have written about both places and how those cities have become witnesses for world peace in a way other cities whose people have also experienced war have not.

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    • I’ve been to Pearl, but don’t know that I’ll ever make it to Hiroshima or Nagasaki. All three speak to the horrors that man can do. As Carolyn Forche says, “There is nothing that one man will not do to another.”

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      • I lived in Japan for two years a lifetime ago. The hospitality of the Japanese to the stranger helped overcome some of the awkwardness of those places and events. Perhaps we could add to what she says: There is nothing that one person will not do for another.

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      • For what this is worth, I agree, Robert. The discomfort and pain terrains, so to speak, are where we find most “great writing.” Even the humor–think Twain, Heller, etc.–have that underpinning of grief or discontent to them. [As a writer, because we’re human, it’s definitely taxing to get at that epicenter of pain, because we’re wired to self-protect.] Again, superb writing, Robert.

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