It was no longer smoke, or dust, or even a cloud of fire. It was a living thing, a new species of being, born right before our incredulous eyes.
—William L. Laurence, Eye Witness Account: Atomic Bomb Mission Over Nagasaki (War Department press release)
There was a flash, so bright — as if
from the world’s largest camera,
come to capture everyone in
their work clothes.
We children ran to the top field
& turned & looked.
What new kind of cloud was this?
What new kind of tree?
It stood for hours on the horizon,
brewing its own weather, we guessed,
or setting fruit. No one could imagine just
how strong the wind, how terrible the rain.
But we were farmers’ kids.
When we saw white birds
streaming away toward the west,
we knew what to think.
With apologies to Gregory Corso for the title.
UPDATE: Marja-Leena Rathje just reminded me about a post she did last year, Art of the Hibakusha, which described her friend Tomio’s recollection of watching the Nagasaki explosion from 80 miles away as a boy. I think this must have been the original seed of inspiration for my poem above. Thanks, Tomio and Marja-Leena!
Also, Japan Focus has just republished a searing editorial by James Carroll: The Nagasaki Principle. Do go read.