Occupation – Poem

Occupation

September 1945, abandoned gun emplacements
line the shoreline on the island of Kyushu
like a million white flags of surrender.

Nagasaki
has no need to surrender,

the city a monument
to defeat, a plutonium horseshoe
hammered onto its heart.

Bodies float like blossoms

of man-o-war in the harbor
as Marines plow
the narrow river
sounding the floor for mines.

Tankers from Mitsubishi Shipyard, loosed
by the bomb’s concussion, drift dazed
and purposeless in the docks, banging
like gavels
against the anchored boats.

Everywhere
is the smolder of bodies.

The living do not know
the war is over
and hide from the Allies for days.

Women are first to emerge,
swarming the barracks
for work, the soft staccato
of their language
converting chambers
into sad belltowers.

Every morning they wait for soldiers
in the showers,

offer knobby squares of rags
and bath towels. They
squat together in corners,
scrubbing the tiles,
while soapy residue
from the men mingles
with ammonia
in the center drain.

They are unshaken
by the nakedness of foreigners,
the transformation
of their shipyard
into military quarters, the bodies
still fused

to the pavement, the steely spikes

of burned-out buildings
like bones picked clean,
like broken fingers
pointing accusations at the sky.

They still bow
to the prowl of every Jeep
patrolling the streets –
as they did the first time
Allies rode to the town’s center
towering over scraps of shops and offices
to consider

clean-up and rebuild, consider

the enemy
and its abandoned plans to station
women and children
at the emplacements
in an invasion, consider Truman
and the Fat Man
that made their mission humanitarian,

the release of American prisoners
with gangrenous stumps
for legs,
consider victory and necessity.
It served them right.

Most of the men
thought this, did not discriminate
between the people’s bows
and Hirohito’s surrender
eight days late: families
in the streets, rocking
like roadside brush ruffled
in the power of their wake,
the bend of their bodies
a bending of the will, like the trees
blown back on the hillsides,
leafless branches charred
and curled like a baby’s fist.

And the dying
competing for treatment
with their wounds in hallways
of a hospital hollowed
by fire, and the burns
branding the skin
of husbands and children,
and the black hair scattered
like dandelion seed
on tufts of wind,

were only outlines,
shadow images,
ghost-etchings on walls
where flowers or fenceposts
once had been. But every morning

women were waiting
to launder their bedclothes.
Every morning women
were working
in the showers, stripping away
the evidence of occupation,
their silvery voices warm
and familiar as a kitchen’s clank
of pots and pans,

their bodies small
and colorful against the yellow pallor
of the tiles, vivid
and undeniable, like leaves
unfolding
on the black skeletons of trees,
already throwing out
new branches, already budding open
with new blooms.

2 thoughts on “Occupation – Poem

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