Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 70 Years Later

450px-Nagasaki_Peace_Park_01

The funny thing about traveling through Japan, as a Caucasian, is that you are automatically assumed to be American, whether you are or not. Normally, that simply translates into children waving at you and shouting, “Haro! Haro!” (i.e., Hello! Hello!), but in some places it is extremely uncomfortable, primarily in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On the one hand, nowhere else have I felt so visibly and problematically American. I walk around the peace parks, looking at the dioramas of the damage done and the absolute nothing that was left in so many places, and I think, “My people did this.” On the other hand, the people of those two cities have so internalized the need for world peace that they are powerfully forgiving. They know that their government did some fairly unforgivable things also during World War II. One of the elderly women I met when I lived in Japan, 1990-1992, told me of the kindness of the American GIs during the occupation, and how one even managed to get eggs and flour so she could make her sister a birthday cake. War. Humans. Ridiculous acts of violence and tiny acts of kindness.

.

Pilgrim

.

Something about this breeze

damply fresh at 4 a.m. touching

my face as I stand on the concrete

platform, sway slightly, wait

for a train to take me, oh, anywhere

really, but especially south, southwest

to Nagasaki, international city,

city of the other bomb, city of pigeons

masquerading as doves.

.

Every bird is a dove

in a place like that, every

recreated building a monument

that looks you right in the eye.

I know. I have walked

Hiroshima’s busy streets. I’ve walked

where apocalypse burned

and was defeated, for now.

.

For now, I stand

on the platform, swaying with sleep

unrealized. Where I am going,

I will feel eyes all over: me,

blond, gaijin, outside-person, American.

Eyes like black rain remember

when a cool breeze could scald

a face beyond recognition.

The breeze that keeps me upright

while fluorescent lights battle

the darkness is filled with possibilities.

All roads lead from this one.

.

This one train could begin taking me

anywhere, measuring out the miles

with its laddered tracks. It will take me south

to a park filled with cherry blossoms

and monuments. A wall and,

perched on it, a weathered bronze dove.

A pigeon filled with love

by the damp bright air, who will land

and kiss the green dove,

beak to beak. The kiss of peace.

.

It is peaceful here on the platform,

alone and swaying, fighting

to open my eyes. The train will come soon.

The city will be filled with people,

jostling and contrary. I must remember

something then, when I arrive,

something about this breeze.

.

Spilecki, Susan. “Pilgrim.” The Kerf. May 2001.

What We Expect from Our Readers

change-the-world

So last night, my roommate Jack asked me what I expected my readers to do after they read my more serious, didactic poems, the ones about Hiroshima and domestic violence and such. Do I expect to change the world? Do I expect to change my readers?

I think that expectation is not necessarily the best way to phrase the answer. Since people come to read poetry at very different times in their lives, weeks, days, I really cannot expect anything. I can hope, certainly. I can hope that they will feel something and perhaps think something, maybe even things that they have not felt or thought before regarding the topic. And for the people who are ready to change, who knows? Maybe something I write can be a springboard. But really it is more about offering a form of companionship. I write what I write because the flame insists on it. If you recognize something in what I write and you feel you are not alone, then that is how the world starts changing. As Jane Hirshfield says:

“I think compassion, in a way, is one of the most important things poems do for me, and I trust do for other people. They allow us to feel how shared our fates are. If a person reads this poem when they’re inside their own most immediate loss, they immediately — I hope — feel themselves accompanied. Someone else has been here. Someone else has felt what I felt. And, you know, we know this in our minds, but that’s very different from being accompanied by the words of a poem, which are not ideas but are experiences.”

Hirshfield, Jane. “’Windows’ That Transform The World: Jane Hirshfield On Poetry.” 14 March 2015. NPR. Web. 23 March 2015.