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May 2020
Hiroshima Poems

Let Us Be Midwives!
by Hiroshima survivor Sadako Kurihara
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Midnight . . .
the basement of a shattered building . . .
atomic bomb survivors sniveling in the darkness . . .
not a single candle between them . . .
the odor of blood . . .
the stench of death . . .
the sickly-sweet smell of decaying humanity . . .
the groans . . .
the moans . . .
Out of all that, suddenly, miraculously, a voice:
"The baby's coming!"
In the hellish basement, unexpectedly,
a young mother has gone into labor.
In the dark, lacking a single match, what to do?
Scrambling to her side,
forgetting themselves . . .

It appears that my translation above has been used by Hiroshima University in a new field of study called International Peace and Coexistence. I found my translation on the university’s Peace and Coexistence Facebook page. Being a longtime peace activist, I am particularly happy with the name of the course!

###

Now the remaining Hiroshima survivors are aging, and they must wonder what the world has learned from their harrowing ordeal:

See: whose surviving sons
visit the ancestral graves
white-bearded, with trembling canes?
―Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

###

We should always consider the fates of innocent children:

I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.
―Michael R. Burch, "Epitaph for a Child of Hiroshima"

###

The intense heat and light of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb blasts left behind ghostly silhouettes of human beings whose lives were erased in an instant:

Hiroshima Shadows
by Michael R. Burch

Hiroshima shadows ... mother and child ...
Oh, when will our hearts ever be beguiled
to end mindless war ... to seek peace,
            reconciled
to our common mortality?

###

Poets remind us that we all share a common destiny:

Grasses wilt:
the braking locomotive
grinds to a halt
―Yamaguchi Seishi, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

###

Something
by Michael R. Burch

Something inescapable is lost―
lost like a pale vapor curling up into shafts of moonlight,
vanishing in a gust of wind toward an expanse of stars
immeasurable and void.

Something uncapturable is gone―
gone with the spent leaves and illuminations of autumn,
scattered into a haze with the faint rustle of parched grass
and remembrance.

Something unforgettable is past―
blown from a glimmer into nothingness, or less,
and finality has swept into a corner where it lies
in dust and cobwebs and silence.

###

Frail Envelope of Flesh
by Michael R. Burch

Frail envelope of flesh,
lying cold on the surgeon’s table
with anguished eyes
like your mother’s eyes
and a heartbeat weak, unstable ...

Frail crucible of dust,
brief flower come to this―
your tiny hand
in your mother’s hand
for a last bewildered kiss ...

Brief mayfly of a child,
to live two artless years!
Now your mother’s lips
seal up your lips
from the Deluge of her tears ...

###

Lucifer, to the Enola Gay
by Michael R. Burch

Go then, and give them my meaning
so that their teeming
streets
become my city.

Bring back a pretty
flower,
a chrysanthemum,
perhaps, to bloom
if but an hour,
within a certain room
of mine
where
the sun does not rise or fall,
and the moon,
though it is content to shine,
helps nothing at all.

There,
if I hear the wistful call
of their voices
regretting choices
made
or perhaps not made
in time,
I can look back upon it and recall,
in all of its forms sublime,
still
Death will never be holy again.

###

The day the Cloud reigned
by Michael R. Burch

The sky was clear on Hiroshima,
sealing her fate.
The report of the weather plane,
neither early nor late,
was certainly plain.

The few innocuous clouds did not refrain
from abandoning the city.
Only the silence, monstrous in its complicity,
regarding man’s error
acknowledged the horror.

Only the small, astonished victims
understood the immaculate heavens:
the inconceivable light
igniting their bones;
the Cloud, all of a sudden,
billowing unbidden,
and then the apocalyptic rain
descending again and again.

So that where white chrysanthemums
had once whispered with bemused tongues
instantly only ashen ruins remained
the day the Cloud reigned.

###

War Close Up
by Hiroshima survivor Kurihara Sadako
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Stirring bugles! Rousing martial music!
The announcer reporting "victory"
like some messenger from on high,
fanning, fanning the fervored flames of battle!

Masterful state magicians materializing
in a wizardly procession,
spreading cleverly poisoned words
to bewilder reason!
Artistic expression abracadabra-ed into state-sponsored magic!

The sound of boots, guns, bombs, cannons
as our army advances, advances, advances toward the enemy!
The thunder of our invincible tanks advancing! Alleluia!
The sudden, sweet gurgles of drowning enemy ships!

The radio broadcasts the sounds of battle:
A war hymn resounding to the skies,
sung by courageous men and women
who worship this cruel idol, War.

Oh, so powerful the merest whiff
addles even the most independent spirit―
the ***** of patriotism!
the religion of race!

While on scenic islands
scattered like stepping stones across the globe,
and on farflung continents,
driven by boundless avarice,
the landlords rage and rave again,
instilling hatred in indigenous populations
then prodding, driving them into battle.
Full of high-sounding pretexts
inevitably adapted to expediency
they raise indisputable banners―
God is on our side!
Righteous war!
Holy war!

"Right" becomes the password of thieves.
They square their shoulders:
"To secure world peace
annihilate
the evil opponent!"

They bark commands:
"For ten years, a hundred years,
fight to the last man, the last woman!"
The master magicians' martial music
resounds magisterially;
fanatic bull-mad patriots
roar and run amok;
completely bewitched, the people carol in unison:
"O, let me die by the side of my sweet Sovereign!"

Keywords/Tags: Hiroshima, Nagasaki, atomic bomb, Japan, Japanese, translation, nukes, nuclear weapons, nuclear war, epitaph, child, children, mother, mothers, father, fathers, WWII, apocalypse, Armageddon
Written by
Michael R Burch  62/M/Nashville, Tennessee
(62/M/Nashville, Tennessee)   
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