A Poet's Kiss

Albuquerque poet Mary Oishi puts poems, pictures, and thoughts here for her family and friends, and for lovers of poetry everywhere.

Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Tokyo unTold

Tokyo unTold

This poem is dedicated to the more than 100,000 civilians who lost their lives on March 10, 1945, in the firebombing of Tokyo, during which nearly half a million bombs filled with 1665 tons of napalm were dropped continuously on sleeping Tokyo by over 1000 American military aircraft, leaving over 1 million survivors homeless, leaving almost nothing standing in over 16 square miles, and leaving the rivers and canals boiling and teeming with the dead. My mother, Chizu Oishi, survived this horror. This poem is also a loving tribute to her.

you never said they used napalm
you never told me that, mom

the day i found out {it was in an email}
was the same day i came down with
the worst flu i had in 30 years
my co-workers said i looked ashen
i know i didn’t quite make it to the comode
i was wretching, wretching! god was I sick

they used napalm!
you never told me that, mom

aunt haruna told me:
me and your mother we were
watching our neighbor boy
he went crazy with all the bombing
he kept going out and waving at the airplanes
me and your mother we were watching
laughing at him he was so crazy
then somebody leaned out of one of the airplanes
and took his head right off
with a machine gun tat-tat-tat-tat just like that
then she laughed that laugh that used to
enrage the soldiers in vietnam,
you know that laugh, mom
like it’s all too horrible like
you either run out and wave at airplanes
or you’re two sisters howling from across the street

you never said they used napalm
there’s a lot you never told me, mom

what you did say stays with me
fresher than september eleventh
though i thought of it again that morning
when i saw the people running terrified
their faces full of ash
what would they do if it was all of manhattan
i thought, if the planes kept coming
then they’d know what my mother knew

the morning’s shocking news
sinks down in the guts by afternoon
and for me every afternoon is still
the afternoon of that day you told the story

i’ll never forget it if i live to be a hundred

we just had quite the day in Japantown
you telling the shopkeepers: domo arigato
i used to buy lots of tapes with just one music
you said, but then he tell me
why you not get this one—it have twenty music
more cheaper, most cheapest one
so now i buy this one tape, get twenty music

we go have sushi lunch downstairs by the moat
i watch you stack your tiles/amazed that
such a tiny woman can eat so much
it was delicious—it was a good day mom, remember?

on the bay bridge i asked that fateful question,
the one my brothers never asked
what was it like, mom? the war, what was it like?

oh, the planes just keep coming,
all night long, never stop
i was running through the streets,
everywhere buildings on fire, whole city burning
i was jumping over dead bodies as i run—
girls my age, old people, little children
i not know why i was running
anywhere i run to just as dangerous as
where i run from, i just run in sheer terror
nobody could clean anything up
and the stench! aw! it was the worst smell
i ever smell, worst smell you could imagine
i just keep running and telling myself

i told your sons the night before you died
but i didn’t say anything about napalm
i didn’t know they used napalm
you never told me that, mom

i guess you couldn’t remember
or maybe you never knew
it took so long to tell me anything at all

mary oishi
16 april 05

Published in the Harwood Anthology, Old School Books, Albuquerque 2006


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