[Author’s Note: UNESCO declared 1979 “The International Year of the Child.” Fatefully, I found myself in Hiroshima that spring, surrounded by ghosts…. On the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of civilians in a prostrate, defeated Japan— the greatest acts of “terrorism” in history (not to end a war, as has been told, but to establish imperial hegemony)–, let us look around our world today and consider– to what end? — GC]
“… how beset we were with what… we had been taught…”
A poem for voices, shakuhachi and koto….
(Sound of shakuhachi, as though the instrument itself is breathing–)
1. The Pilgrim
Under the flush of cherry,
in air as mild as breath,
by the Ota’s tributary–
five crooked fingers reaching
into the Inland Sea–
I stalk the A-bomb dome.
(The reed sounds tremble, linger, fade…)
2. The Old Man
(Echo of minyo in the distance…)
The moon of snow
rises over the white world.
In the chill gauze of the air
wild stag and deer
in a nook of mountain.
Nameless birds, my white brows
over the dim reflections.
Your memory fills the air
like the incense of a dream…
When the wind shifts against these bamboo poles,
or sifts the water in the carp-jeweled pond—
the petals of the cherry fallen there
as though a girl had strewn them with her songs—
then we may hear the chansons of the dead,
shuddering the bamboo temple’s bell,
clamoring softly in the bamboo hair
how human passion shuddered in a sieve
upon the spume of time, cast spells,
and cleaved and echoed in a timeless well.
4. The Old Woman (An “ordinary life”)
My daughter died a week after the bomb,
its image blistered in her crow-black eyes.
Two days later my son found me.
Keloids covered his back and skull.
He crawled into bed and did not rise.
Three days passed, and he vomited blood.
“Though I am dying,” he said,
“you will live a healthy, ordinary life.”
The smoke his body made was white…
(Minyo echoes with the cry of a deer,
caught in a trap in the forest…)
5. The Pilgrim
I clocked my walking speed
at seventeen minutes a mile.
Seventeen minutes I walked:
all I saw were dead.
Seventeen minutes more,
the wounded lay with the dying.
Half an hour on,
and that which escaped the fire
huddled in desperate corners:
shadows that sought shadows.
6. The Old Man
A woman is standing
behind a silken screen.
The scent of her silhouette
on the snowy screen.
The sun drops softly behind her:
a ripe melon of youth.
She leans her head back,
her long hair covers her buttocks,
her nipples harden
under my imagined gaze.
(Koto crystal trembling…)
In the Twentieth Epoch of Love
we pulled on the rubbery face
and found the luminous skull
turning around in its place,
wearing the grin of our race,
saying: All who endeavor will
find here the end of man,
the bone at the heart of will,
the snake in the garden of Love;
saying: Go and be killed if you can!
Man of the dinosaur mind,
taking the atom’s weight,
balanced it on his nose,
sealed his doom with hate.
Now we stand on the brink of the cold
while the earth turns around in its place,
a tiny rock of the light
turning in infinite space
while we cling to ourselves in spite.
8. The Pilgrim
In Peace Memorial Park
I stare at the A-bomb dome,
sit on a bench in the dark
while pigeons roost in the ruins,
while a girl with ivory hands
plucks a koto’s strings;
somewhere beyond my hearing—
crystal, unbreakable things.
Now ghosts of the children enter, speaking in an echo chamber:
We sought nothing but the triumph of the blossoms.
(Our skin was new to breeze and shower.)
War, we thought, a kind of blind-man’s bluff.
(No victory but in the seasons’ power.)
We forgave the distractions of those older.
(We lived life before we knew life.)
We are your children
(and your children’s
(Koto strings are plucked briskly, violently, then are still. The shakuhachi
(First published in Poetry Nippon)
Gary Corseri has performed his work at the Carter Presidential Library, and his dramas have been produced on PBS-Atlanta and elsewhere. He has published novels and collections of poetry, taught in US public schools and prisons and in US and Japanese universities. His work has appeared at The Seattle Star, Village Voice, The New York Times, Redbook Magazine and hundreds of publications/websites worldwide. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.