Friday, August 4, 2017

Original Child Bomb: What We Talk About When We Talk About The Bomb (Part 2)

A section from "Poems of the Atomic Bomb" 
by Tōge Sankichi

This is part two of Original Child Bomb - an exploration of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and it's legacy in the 21st century. Here in the US, history is a tricky thing. The past is seen as inconsequential when it doesn't serve our current aims and purposes. (But then, I would say this is true for just about any nation and corporation on earth...and many individuals...) The first part, about the annual peace vigil at Los Alamos and the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty, is the previous post.

Toge Sankichi
The poems of  Tōge Sankichi bring the historical support or criticism of the bomb into sharp focus. These poems are a potent and living record: this is what happened on the ground. Under the noise from the arguments for and against, I keep looking at what happened to those people - real people, flesh and blood people - during and after the blast. This helps me focus on the present - right now, in many parts of the world, there are those living with the threat of imminent annihilation from missiles from the sky (US drone strikes), those that have lost family members and loved ones from incessant bombing campaigns, those that have lost their homes, their eyes, their legs, their hands... 

Here's a section from the book
Poems of the Atomic Bomb 
(Genbaku shishū)
Tōge Sankichi:

activist, poet, and survivor of the atomic blast in Hiroshima.

Record of a Storehouse

That Day: In a field of lotus plants, all leaves burned into the shape of a horseshoe, the place: the second story of the army clothing warehouse. A concrete floor with dim light from a single tall latticed window. A layer of army-issue blankets spread on the floor; those who have fled lie here facing all directions. All are naked save for the fragments of underpants and work pants on their waists.
            Those who so fill the floor that there is nowhere left to step are nearly all younger schoolgirls who had left to take care of the evacuated houses. But the scars that cover their entire bodies from their faces on down, the mercurochrome, the clots of blood, the ointment, the bandages, transformed by filth, make them look like a group of old beggar women.
            Shaded by thick posts, the pails and buckets by the wall are full of dirt, and into these they pour excrement, and amid the foul, chest-piercing smell,
            "Help me daddy, help me!"
            "Water, hooray, we have water! Oh, I’m so happy!"
            "Fifty sen! Hey, here is fifty sen!"
            "Take it away that dead thing at my feet take it away!"
            The voices are high and thin and unceasing; the minds of some of the schoolgirls have already been torn apart; half of the girls have become corpses that no longer move, but there’s no one to take them away. Occasionally, a parent bound in air-raid clothing will enter looking for a daughter; flustered, he’ll look around for familiar features or for work pants of a particular pattern. When they know this is going on, the girls briefly cry out desperately for water and for help.
            "Water, sir! Draw some water for me!"
            Hairless, one eye in a spasm, her entire body swollen, a girl emerges partway out of the shadow of a post and holds up a crushed canteen, waves it in the air, and repeats her plea again and again and again. But the adults have heard that they are not to give water to the burn victims, and they pay no attention to these cries. So most of the girls get tired of calling and spitefully drop their voices, and that girl too finally collapses back into the shadows.
            The storehouse without light sends into the earth the echoes of the faraway city that continues to burn, and, its crazed voices wasting away and rising up, is swallowed by the darkness of the night.

(Translated by Karen Thornber)


A PDF of the entire book can be found here.

(The book contains poems from the moment of the blast, through the aftermath, culminating in a peace march in Hiroshima in 1950, commemorating the 'death anniversary' during the American occupation, that was crushed by police)

Memorial for Toge Sankichi at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

"...give back the human race..."

(Original Child Bomb is a mistranslation of the Japanese term for the atom bomb, genshi bakudan. Genshi, which means "atom," contains root characters which, when rendered individually, can possibly mean "original" and "child." There is a Thomas Merton poem and a documentary of the same name. It was supposed for years that this was the literal translation of "atom bomb" because the Japanese saw it as the first of its kind. As far as I can tell, Original Child Bomb was never used by the Japanese - and yet it seems to contain, in English - because of the strange and innocent distance that "child" and "original" seem to make from the horrors of the explosion and its aftermath - a more appropriately ominous and terrifying feel than "atom bomb." A dread thing inside a chrysalis, so to speak.)

A Short History of the Decision to Drop the First Two Nuclear Bombs

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