The Cycle of “Bomb”

by Neil Philip, Kijima Hajime, and Margaret Mitsutani

I took care of Hiroshima victims
as a student of seventeen years old.
Defeated and broken. Unrestorable.
Who’ll tend the bombed among you?
– Kijima Hajime

My mother saw her childhood bombed to ruins,
her hometown in flames night after night.
Halfway across the world, my father
was burying his friends with his own hands.
– Neil Philip

too many dead to bury at
Ground Zero where they said not
even a blade of grass would
grow for a hundred years
– Margaret Mitsutani

I saw the hugest Mushroom Cloud grow,
not knowing what it did really mean.
Under its spell we have been breathing,
wasting time and destroying ourselves?
– Kijima Hajime

This time, experts confidently predict
the war will be over in six days at most.
No reason the world should take longer
to destroy than to create.
– Neil Philip

“I am become death the destroyer of worlds”
said the creator of Ground Zero who
also said. “We have known sin and
that is a knowledge we cannot lose.”
– Margaret Mitsutani

Simple refrains are believed to be effective,
but they breed only thoughtless nausea.
Shallow eloquence strips sin of its enormity,
forcing us to share empty nightmares.
– Kijima Hajime

Who is that wizened shadow
gobbling black bread at the funeral?
He is the sin-eater
his mouth too full to speak.
– Neil Philip

A burning bush was a message from God.
The Bush in the White House thinks God’s on his side.
But surely that same God said killing’s a sin-
He’d better burn this Bush, or no one will win.
– Margaret Mitsutani

“To be beaten out is to win.”
Really? Spiritually? In what world?
Old and tough is this Japanese proverb.
Earthly people have spread an enigma.
– Kijima Hajime

The god-king Gilgamesh, grieving for his friend,
sailed over the bitter water of death
seeking the herb that makes an old man young
now he too takes his meals in the house of dust.
– Neil Philip

Old King A brought back from the war a certain Miss C
who warned him of the dangers of that fine red rug.
When young women’s words fall like stone on old men’s ears
triumphant marches tend to end in baths of blood.
– Margaret Mitsutani

Suddenly bloodthirsty monsters
emerged masked with Justice.
Who can bomb sanely
the ancient city today?
– Kijima Hajime

This poem is a collaborative composition, written by three poets—one Japanese, one English, and one American living in Japan—in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. It was first published in the Tokyo literary journal The Subaru Monthly in June 2003. It is written in the form of individual four-line poems, linked according to rules formulated by the first of the poets, my late mentor Kijima Hajime. The result is a kind of conversation between three friends. The first poem is by Kijima Hajime, the second by myself, the third by Margaret Mitsutani, and so on in sequence until Kijima brings the conversation to an end by repeating the word that forms the first verbal link, which is “bomb.” In two of Margaret’s poems she refers to Ground Zero; she is very deliberately taking the term back to its original usage, which was to describe the site of impact of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

        – Neil Philip


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