Poetry | December 01, 1992

Winner of the 1992 Editors’ Prize for Poetry

i. from Fukuoka to Kagoshima

 

Bottom to top, blue fills

the windowpane across

the aisle as though our

 

train rode on water. Where

narrow strips of land interpose

between the tracks and the sea,

 

carp tails rise out of roof

slates, turn into dragons or

phoenixes. In our window, small

 

houses crowd against the steep

mountainside, stopping all that

green from cascading down to

 

sea in one sweep of eloquence.

 

ii. Kagoshima

 

Sakurajima stretches across the panelled

windows of the restaurant, large as a close-up

 

at an outdoor flick, a desperado

with a smoking gun. While the young sip

 

coffee on this fifth floor, eye-level to

volcanic disasteer, grandmothers walk past

 

store displays below with umbrellas open to

the mid-day sun. At their feet, white dust

 

accumulates: witness to the dangers they’ve

known. All week, ashes fall like memory

 

on the statue of Saigo Takamori, a hero of

sweet failures.

 

iii. Hiroshima

 

In the Peace Memorial Park,

umbrellas of school children

blossom yellow, identical

 

among rain-washed statues,

thousand cranes gleaming like

wet gladioli. Inside

 

the museum, singed blouses

guard the numerous shelves of

displayable pain: glass pulled

 

from burnt skin, yellowed toenails

curved to the tip, watches precise

on the fatal moment. Around

 

the diorama of the city

intact before the bomb, children

point out the buildings that still

 

remain near their houses. At

eight or nine, how could they know

that whole forests and villages have

 

burnt since? Six hundred meters

below the epicenter, the words

engraved in stone promise

 

that the mistake shall not

be repeated but fail to

say whether the mistake

 

is the bomb or the War,

or all war. Though we ask

the dead to rest in peace,

 

we gloss over the core of their

tragedy: they have died for

the wrong cause. We prefer to

 

see them like the rock turned

partially to glass by the flash

and made sadly beautiful–

 

another sweet failure to

mourn. The peace goddess is sick

with mutation, her arms

 

freeze in a bodhisattva

greeting while her angel wings beat

beneath the Hindu head-dress. God

 

help us, someone’s written

in the museum guest book before

me. What god can help us if we

ride the waters of easy

pain while the houses holding up

the mountainside turn solemn

 

under their burden?

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