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.

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Shot Dog – Poem

Shot Dog

Before the 187th Airborne Regiment dropped down
at Sunchon without incident and took the town, his division

was ordered to Nevada, where atomic bombs glittered
over the desert. Six miles out from ground zero, they dug trenches

and camped for days. When Shot Dog went off at 1,400 feet
and the soldiers curved themselves against the trench

like babies in a womb and covered their eyes, he saw the bones
of his hands through his flesh and the flash of light. When static

from the control room ordered them to stand and witness
the cloud, the heat waved across the desert and knocked him

on his back, then knocked him forward on his stomach
after he stood up again as the air was sucked back in.

His helmet and one army boot were gone; the roily spectrum
of the mushroom spread above him, not black like a thundercloud

but churning with light, red and red and orange and blue
like colored water inked across the sky. He tried not to think

it was, but it was beautiful. Before they got their orders to march out
for maneuvers, an officer strapped a film badge to his chest to test

the levels of exposure on his skin, and then he boarded a truck
filled with soldiers. As they neared the heart of the explosion,

he saw sand burned to glass, Sherman tanks submerged into earth,
and structures of steel and concrete vaporized into jagged remains.

But the dogs were still alive. Half-burned, blinded, skin and hind-
quarters missing, the bars of their cages bent and smoking

against their bones, lying on their sides, unmoving, not even the eyes,
except for their tremors of breath. When he saw the dogs he thought:

of course. Of course there would be dogs, he accepted this as readily
as he accepted his own dog-march into war, and yet, he stopped.

As he reached out and laid his hands down against their heated flesh,
the breath of the dogs slowed in expectation of release, but the veterinarian
in the control room with his euthanistic needle would wait another day
for the radiation levels to die down before he did his work. Most of the dogs

would be dead soon anyway, dead from the toxins, dead from the burns,
but animal need is futureless, immediate, inapplicable to science or war.

As he stood up and moved forward to follow his ordered path
across the drop zone, the pathetic wail of dogs rose up behind him,

desperate, incredulous, insistent that the broken bond of skin against skin
be unforgotten, and by the time he made it out to the perimeter where an officer

waved a Geiger counter over his fatigues and professed him clean,
he had come to hate those dogs, and he continued to hate them

as he showered off in the makeshift latrines of Desert Rock, and he hated them
while he vomited for three days after the explosion, and he hated them

while his nose and gums continued to bleed for months after that,
and he hated them while he shipped out for Korea, and he heard

the wail of dogs in the rushes of rain while he lay in the rice fields,
and he heard the wail of dogs in the mournful marches of civilians

on dirt roads, in the windblast of a cargo door opening over Munson-ni,
in the graze of a bullet against his ear before it pierced the helmet

of another soldier, and as the fallout from Shot Dog continued its journey
eastward over North America on drifts of wind, and Iodine-131 rained down

on farmlands from the thunderclouds for months after the blast, he learned
that in the absence of mercy, he would always hear the wailing of dogs.