Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Hiroshima Panels & The Truth of War

The Hiroshima Panels

A little over twenty years ago, I sat in a Quaker Meeting House in a small town west of Des Moines, Iowa, looking at slides of several folding screens painted by the late artist couple, Iri and Toshi Maruki. The screens contain depictions of the horrific aftermath of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, and are known world-wide as The Hiroshima Panels. By the time I saw images of those screens, I had seen many photos of the devastation in books, but those screens were different. This was art. A horrific event transformed into art. 

Hiroshima Panels
What was shocking, what the photos had never revealed to me, was movement - the body writhing in pain. And that movement was extremely uncomfortable to witness. I can honestly say that that moment was the first time I really felt the horror of the atomic blast. Those bodies in agony were suddenly alive, in the process of dying. Instead of seeing those images in terms of the past, and so safely distant, I suddenly saw those people – their terror and pain – as something that was happening right in front of me.

It was not hard to come to the conclusion that this should not happen to anyone else, ever again.

It Saved Lives! & Willful Amnesia

Today is the 70th Anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The official US version is a recycling of the same old message: The bomb bay doors opened, the bomb flew out, and the war ended. It saved lives on both sides, so move on. We are a culture that’s good at ‘moving on.’ Of course what we really mean by ‘moving on’ is ‘forgetting.’ In part, this willful forgetting is a refusal to look at the complexities and consequences of war itself.

The US military spent a lot of time and energy on keeping footage of the devastation from the US public in the decades after WWII (See Atomic Cover-up by Greg Mitchell ). In the sanctioned images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no Japanese victims ever appeared. And so it was not only easier to think about the bombings as just, but also to think about nuclear power and nuclear weapons as powerful and deadly, but good – because they were in the right hands.

Official Image

Censored Photo

Twenty years ago, there was controversy over the Smithsonian’s exhibit on the 50th anniversary of the bombing. Along with the fuselage of the Enola Gay (the B-29 that dropped the first bomb), the Smithsonian staff wanted to include the Hiroshima Panels and some artifacts collected from the aftermath debris. Conservative and WWII veteran’s groups rose up in arms, saying that this inclusion would present the Japanese as victims. The exhibit was eventually scaled back and the story of the consequences of the bomb was dropped.

Weirdly enough, the story of the panels being displayed in the US has fared no better. Very few galleries have been willing to display them over the years. According to Yoshiko Hayakawa, who has  brought the Hiroshima Panels several times to the US, it has always been difficult to find a gallery or museum willing or able to display them. They were last shown here in 1995, in Minnesota. (Japanese art on atomic bombings exhibited in Washington, AP, June 12, 2015

How we see the bombings supports

how we see ourselves now


From my readings, it’s clear that there were many alternatives to dropping the bomb and none of them were pursued. According to Paul Ham (Hiroshima Nagasaki, St. Martin’s Press, 2011), when the decision was made to drop the bomb the planned invasion of the Japanese islands by US troops had already been called off as unfeasible and not needed to end the war.

So, how we tell the story of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki supports how we see ourselves now. To blindly accept the official version – or to ignore the whole thing – is to accept or ignore how we are currently conducting military actions around the world. To accept the official version is to accept (or be willfully ignorant of) the funneling of untold billions into research and development for unneeded weapons of mass destruction. 

It saved lives! This was also the line used by both the Bush and Obama administrations in relation to torture. It is constantly invoked now when anyone questions the various conflicts the US is engaged in around the world – Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, The Congo, etc. (according to Washington Blog the US is currently engaged in military conflicts in 74 countries).

Our refusal to examine the motives and horrific consequences of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings is directly related to our refusal to discuss and question the countless hellfire missiles fired from drones throughout the Middle East and Africa today that murder hundreds of civilians. By reducing such a devastating event to a few simple phrases we shelter ourselves from the complex truth of the past – and so continue to shelter ourselves from the present.


The Hiroshima Panels & The Complex Truth

Detail of Crows
One of the Hiroshima Panels depicts the death of American prisoners of war in the bombing.  Another one portrays the plight of the Korean slaves in the aftermath. The one depicting Koreans is called Crows, a rendering of crows picking at the corpses of Koreans in black ink. The Japanese buried Korean bodies last, reflecting the discrimination that the enslaved Koreans faced even in death. 

The panels portrayed the Japanese as victims, yes, but also as victimizers. This is the truth of war. Forgetting the complexity of this tragedy means that we can continue to see war from only one side: meaning, all of ‘our’ actions are necessarily heroic and all actions on the ‘other side’ are necessarily evil. Note our current media and military influenced kindergarten language that labels victims of drone strikes as ‘the bad guys.’ It’s grotesquely simple. And it helps make the killing that much easier.

On the 70th Anniversary of the first atomic bombing, the panels have finally made it to Washington, DC. They are currently being shown in The American University Museum, located in the Katzen Arts Center at The American University.

Iri & Toshi Maruki

A great series dedicated to the 70th Anniversary on the Al-Jazeera America site can be found here:  

Other articles worth looking at:


Hiroshima Today/70th Commemoration

Monday, June 8, 2015

2 Shorts - Chaos & Kachinas

The Meal of Lord Candlestick/Leonora Carrington
The Chaos Orchestra

A thunderstorm sweeps in over the foothills. Lightning sets fire to several firs clinging to a sandstone cliff above town. All the lights go out. Rain beats against roofs, windows, doors. Inside the church at the centre of town, a man with a stocking pulled over his head begins to pull bell ropes. Fire spreads through the hills. He smiles at the church custodian, bound and gagged, slumped beneath the belfry window. 

Everything is going according to plan: first, he’d thrown turtle shells into glowing ash, interpreted the cracks as time lines; then, blindfolded, he’d thrown darts at a map of the world; finally, he’d drawn cards from a deck illustrated with every musical instrument known to man.

He doesn’t wonder what would have happened if he’d pulled the saxophone card instead of church bells because he doesn’t believe in chance. He is certain that he – and everyone else in town – are players in a divine plot. They have always been destined to play in this orchestra of fire, smoke, bells, and rain. 

A woman rushes out of her dark house, into her garden, following the smell of smoke. The sight of brilliant magenta petals shining in the downpour ignites her brain, strips all questions from her. Next to the fierce purple flowers are seven black pansies; black hands, pushing through wet soil, like Cimmerian worms swaying in the night, called up from the underworld by the cacophony of bells.

(Previously published in Madhat Lit )

The Ancestor/Leonora Carrington

House by the Lake

On a vacation run, he passed the house, saw it was for sale. Back at his rental cottage he made the call. When he showed up for the tour his wife was with him. They both told the owner how much they liked “the western decor.” The owner corrected them: “Southwest.” 

There are katchina dolls here, in a cabinet behind glass. On the walls, upstairs, half-naked young Indians hold each other, all be-feathered, air-brushed with war paint. On the wall above the glass doors to the porch that looks over the lake hangs a peace pipe, stamped as authentic because there is a card attached that says the artist is registered with a tribe. 

I was there. I watched. While they talked, the acorns outside fell, rolled down the macadam drive. Red leaves floated by the dock.

Boats sink. Oaks die. Crows feed. Fish settle in the gloom beneath the surface, unmoving; the true thoughts of water. He bought the house, kept the southwest decor. Soon after, they divorced.

I was there. I heard it all: the arguments, recriminations; the sound of tiny feet in the middle of the night; the whispering beneath their bed; the slamming doors.

The man now goes down to the dock at night, raises his arms to the light from a house across the water. Black snakes ripple through the light. I remain. I will be here long after this house falls.


Down Below

The paintings above are by Leonora Carrington. 
If you want to know more, you can find the beginning of my series on her life and work  

Friday, May 22, 2015

New Story in Interzone: Angel Fire

I've got a new story in the current issue of Interzone (Issue 258), the UK's longest running science fiction magazine. 

The story is semi/distantly/vaguely related to my Service Economy series. But don't let that put you off (if you're dedicated to capitalism). A vision of the near future, maybe tomorrow; the descent of someone living in the stratosphere (financially). Hedge-fund managers and apocalyptic angels. The usual.   

In the US you can order a single digital copy of the issue from Weightless Books or subscribe directly to Interzone. You can also find copies in various bookstores around the US. Here in Santa Fe, it's available at Hastings. 

Issue #258 (May/June 2015) includes work by T.R. Napper, Julie C. Day, Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, and Malcolm Devlin. Brief snippets below.

a shout is a prayer / for the waiting centuries by T.R. Napper
illustrated by Warwick Fraser-Coombe

Item image: a shout is a prayer

I’ll give you a roll of barbwire
A vine for this modern epoch

 Climbing all over our souls 
That’s our love, take it, don’t ask

“Any food?” asked Phuong.
“No food,” replied the woman.
“Rice, old rice, bamboo shoots. Anything.”
“No food.”
“I have a child. We haven’t eaten in two days.”
“We all have children. Here, take some water.”
Phuong reached out in the darkness, a smooth, cool wooden ladle caressed her hand. She fumbled for the bucket, filled the scoop with water, and held it out for her daughter, who grabbed it and slurped noisily. Phuong felt for Trung and passed the scoop to him. He rested his hand on her shoulder as he drank. Her skin tingled at his touch, familiar, yet always new. Then she took her turn, cracked lips and swollen tongue welcoming the cool stream of water.

The Re'em Song by Julie C. Day
illustrated by Jim Burns

Item image: The Re'em Song

Of course, leaving was easy.
“The same damned people, the same damn trees, even the same damn work, all our God-fearing lives. Do you really think we would have married if there’d been even a handful to choose from?”
Jaw bones and sections of vertebrae hung from the rafters of their house. Ribs and phalanges contained in carefully sewn skins were piled outside, waiting to be shipped off. And always there were the horns calling from somewhere deep in the woods.

Doors by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
illustrated by Richard Wagner

Item image: Doors

It had been three months since I’d taken my brother anywhere. The last place we’d gone together was our mother’s funeral. Since then Zack had been difficult, more so than usual, refusing to put on his shoes, shushing me when I asked him to do his chores, even screaming and pounding his fists when it was time to drive him to the recycling facility where he sorted paper as part of a program for developmentally disabled adults.

Angel Fire by Christien Gholson

Item image: Angel Fire

1: Newark to St Louis

35,000 feet over Pennsylvania and we’re finally above the brown film of smog that enshrouds the east coast. To the west, billowing up out of the white horizon, I can see a thousand-armed dancing Nataraja, braiding his hands into a slow-turning column; a cumulo-castle thousands of yards wide.

I am that thousand-armed shape-shifter. My wealth has been created out of thin air – hedge funds, arbitrage, global macro strategies; jargon and numbers in the ether. My kind doesn’t actually do anything. There’s no product: no violin crafted, no corn grown, no poem created, no pipes plumbed, no cement foundations poured. The stupid bastards back in the cheap seats hav­en’t a clue.

Her First Harvest by Malcolm Devlin
illustrated by Vince Haig

Item image: Her First Harvest

Nina’s dress was made from synthetic silk; it was a pale silver grey which shone even in the thin phosphor lighting of Aunt Caroline’s dressing room. Nina stood side-on to the mirror and twisted so she could see her back more clearly. The dress hung open from her shoulders, sweeping down in smooth symmetrical curves to meet in a discreet bow above her waist. Her exposed back struck her as looking unhealthy and pale in the thin blue light; her crop was barely more than a thick rumple of texture across her skin. It looked barely more valuable than heat rash.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

A Poem by Miriam Sagan - Diamond Tsunami

Map of the Lost

Another installment of Poetry? I just don’t get it. A series where I post a poem or group of poems by one author, followed by anything the author wants to say about the work. Today’s poem is from the book, Map of the Lost, by Miriam Sagan. 

Miriam is the author of more than twenty books, including Searching for a Mustard Seed: A Young Widow's Unconventional Story , which won the award for best memoir from Independent Publishers for 2004. She is also a founding member of the collaborative press, Tres Chicas Books

Some of her other books include Seven Places in America: a Poetic Sojourn, Rag Trade, Archeology of Desire, and The Art of Love . She lives and works right here in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

More importantly, she has posted haiku signs around her neighborhood (about three blocks from where I live)! You can find the original post on her blog about the Haiku in the Hood project here. And an update here.

Miriam has a generous spirit. On her blog,
Miriam's Well: Poetry, Land Art and Beyond, she posts work by her students and other artists (poets, visual artists, sculptors, novelists, you name it), along with her own work.

Seven Places in America
Here's a story about this poem: Moab, June 2009, Michaela and I were making one last pass through the desert before a big move to Wales. I ended up in the poetry section of Back of Beyond Books, pulled out a few books, read a little, and had the same sinking feeling that had been growing inside me for several years – what is this? Why is so much of this boring? Where is the voice that has a sense of context – a voice situated in the beautiful and terrifying world we live in?

Then I found Map of the Lost by Miriam. I pulled it out, opened it at random, and read the poem Diamond Tsunami. It lit up my mind. I think I laughed out loud at the end because of the light. Sure, I was just another crazy guy laughing in the poetry section, but later that summer, after a hiatus of three years, I started writing poetry again.


Diamond Tsunami

There is a wave
You are not in the wave

You are on the expensive balcony

You are at the Copper Queen in Bisbee, Arizona

You are in the wave

You let go of the child’s hand

The wave overturns the turquoise truck
You were so proud of that truck

The wave fills every swimming pool with salt water

There is no wave

The no wave breaks over the house

My body is transparent and you can see my heart beating

The wave is in the mind

The satellite photographs show the islands have disappeared

When I say “you” I mean the three persons of grammar:
Me, you, and everyone else

The wave covers the balcony and the palm trees
Yes, we are in the wave.


When the 2004 tsunami hit Indonesia and other parts of South Asia I was on vacation in the Sonoran desert. The news of the destruction was everywhere. I was in Bisbee, Arizona, home of an enormous open pit copper mine and a grand old lady of a hotel, the Copper Queen.

As a child, I was obsessed with tsunami and did not realize they were unlikely to hit Cape Cod. Water rising, big waves, sunken cities--these remain imaginative obsessions to this day, not eased by global warming.

Diamond tsunami is a Buddhist reference--or at least diamond is--to the jeweled net of Indra, where each gem reflects every other in a net of interconnection – and to the Diamond Sutra. Interconnection--how to make sense of it? How to make sense of events half a world away that I have absolutely no direct experience, but that nonetheless resonates?

As I wrote the poem I was cycling through all the possible attitudes I might take--this has nothing to do with me, this is actually happening to me, literally no one is an island versus I'm so far inland it can't matter. And then into the realm of the unconditioned--none of this is actually real. And then back again.

Then there is that truck. When I put together my collection MAP OF THE LOST for University of New Mexico Press I found that exact same truck being destroyed by water in a different poem! This time the truck was stranded in a flash flood off east Alameda Street in Santa Fe. What is the truck? A Buddhist vehicle of the dharma, civilization, or a New Mexican's caballero sense of self? I don't know. Just that water is greater.

Miriam Sagan
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Miriam Sagan

Links to Miriam's Blog
& some poems online

Rag Trade