James Street North: Hiroshima Day (August 6)
by Ellen S. Jaffe
Armed with plastic
pails of coloured chalk,
we enter the evening street
of north-end Hamilton,
into the August half-light.
We take turns lying down,
draw our outlines, our shadows,
in green and pink and yellow,
in memory of lives
lost in atomic flash
one Hiroshima morning
the year that I was born.
We lie down on this street
where immigrants once
opened clothing and hardware stores,
now gentrified with galleries and craft shops
jostling for space with a mission for the homeless,
coffee shops where men play cards and gossip,
the Armoury’s stone towers,
Christ’s Church Cathedral overseeing all.
Armed only with chalk
and good will,
we lie down on this busy street,
Passersby stop, curious,
as we trace
each other’s bodies.
“What’s this about?”
“Can I do it, too?”
“Will you draw my dog?”
The little brown dog squirms but lies
to let us draw around him.
There must have been dogs then, too,
and cats, and birds,
as well as people.
The blast was so fast,
so hot, we explain,
people just evaporated,
their bodies left in shadows on the walls.
We lie down, or stand against brick walls
and doorways, stained by time,
sweat, soot, and tire fires,
draw sketches in coloured chalk,
arms, legs, heads swollen, misshapen,
like hungry ghosts searching for their souls.
Hiroshima…three days later Nagasaki…
Little Boy and Fat Man,
comic-strip names for these deadliest of bombs,
uranium and plutonium fissioned into infinity,
when tested on white sands near Jornada del Muerto,
New Mexican desert. The implosion glowed,
radiance of a thousand suns.
Now I am become death,
destroyer of worlds.
Oppenheimer, shaken, quotes Bhagavad Gita.
Was anyone listening?
Armed with chalk and talk of peace,
we carry on up James Street ‘til we tire
and darkness falls.
Next day, rain may wash away
the dusty, ghosty shadows,
but not the facts and numbers,
not the memory traces,
the shame and fear,
toxic and invisible as radiation,
all our lives.
Ellen S. Jaffe grew up in New York City, studied in England, immigrated to Canada in 1979, and has lived in Hamilton since 2000. Her second book of poetry, Skinny-Dipping with the Muse, was published by Guernica Editions in 2014. Earlier books include Water Children, Writing Your Way, and Feast of Lights, a young-adult novel which received a Moonbeam award for multi-cultural fiction. Her poetry and short fiction have been published in journals and anthologies, including Crossing Lines: Poets Who Came to Canada in the Vietnam War Era; Jack Layton: Art and Action; Poet to Poet; and None and All of This Is True (Grit Lit chapbook). A group of her poems has been translated into Finnish, published in Helsinki as Syntymalauluja/Birthsongs.