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.

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Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Shigeko Sasamori visits ABQ

Shigeko Sasamori, hibakusha (Hiroshima survivor), addresses the Albuquerque Cultural Conference August 31, 2008.
Photo credit: Margaret Randall

Aja Oishi reads "Hiroshima II," one of a series of 4 poems she wrote after attending the 60th Anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima in Hiroshima, with Shigeko Sasamori.

Photo Credit: Margaret Randall

Hiroshima II.

They read off a list of the newly dead survivors
of the bomb and put the names inside
a cenotaph with flowers in all solemnity
they spoke for peace and ending wars
and dismantling the warheads hanging over all of us

and my friend Shigeko-san who sixty years before
was just starting to clean the streets on a hot bright morning
was sitting next to me
without her son and family
and she was trying to think of him
and them and
everything but—

at 8:15 they rang a bell and we all stood
in the sunshine and prayed at once
and either thought about 60 years ago
and 600 meters above our heads
where something evil fell
or we tried not to

and we sat down after three long tolls
and the children spoke shrilly and vowed
us all to peace
and then they released one thousand doves
into the sunshine and the thick wet air

cicadas applauded and screamed in the trees
and two dragonflies made their rounds above the crowd
stopping carefully over each and every head
like tiny popes giving their blessing
or tiny souls scanning our faces for signs of resolve
or remorse

Shigeko-san watched and wiped the sweat
from her face with a purple flowered cloth
and what was she thinking as she fanned and
fanned
and listened with her native ears wide open?

she was young once, with a normal face
and she played games with her middle school friends even though
there was a war going on
she knew all the popular songs

as the government officials paid their respects and
made their speeches the proud
straight old man in front of us, wrinkled as
japan itself
folded at the waist and I saw his shoulders shaking
as he sobbed into his handkerchief

I looked at my hands that have only ever been
long and firm and formed as unscarred hands are formed
and realized I was surrounded by elderly people
who spent their youth in the middle of war
who knew what that was

and the kindest woman I know
was sitting there all the while with the
skin of her thigh grafted on to her jaw
to give her a semblance of chin

and I thought of where she must have been
at 8:15
August 6, 1945
she would have been close to here, only a kilometer and a half away
as she watched the plane fly overhead
and she saw the little white parachute drift down for a moment

and then the sky erupted and her beautiful summer day
was suddenly gone
and she found herself after the flash and the winds
under a blanket of radioactive ash

at 8:14 she was perfect and
a happy 13 year old girl
but by 8:16 her face had already burned away
and her hands were contorted like claws

for five days she lay in the rubble clinging to life
and saying her name over and over
with no food or water
as all the ghosts paraded by

until her father came through the wasteland and pulled back her hair
to try to find her face
and her scalp came off in his hands

sixty years later
her story emerges one small sentence at a time
although hell showed up to change her
all at once
and she’s had to carry it ever since

Shigeko-san
beloved of every animal and child who meets her
sat beside me against all odds in the sweltering heat of August
without shedding a tear, patiently
cooling herself as best she could
in her wide purple hat

and her smile proves everyone wrong
and she is the most gentle person, and laughs
like a schoolgirl with perfect fingers

and sixty years later
in Hiroshima
green leaves are everywhere in the park
and everything’s moving and
everywhere you look there’s life

Aja Oishi



Mary Oishi introduces Shigeko at the Albuquerque Cultural Conference.

Photo credit: Margaret Randall

savior shigeko-san

today i met a savior, shigeko sasamori
only 13 her first day sweeping the streets of hiroshima
august sixth 1945

little boy dropped, she went down twice
but came back up again

then down under the surgeon’s knife
to reconstruct, to reconstruct until
here she {almost} is again

sight of that plane in the smithsonian
it makes her brain go white to see
sixty years later

but here she is in new mexico
birthplace of the bomb
and laughs, and clutches her horror to her forehead

shigeko tells her story

i’m not just here saying i’m a victim of hiroshima—look at me
no, i know a lot of americans died
a lot of koreans, brazileans, and all kinds of people die from war

i’m saying look at the babies
nobody says, oh a baby, get that away from me
no, we smile and say aw! a baby!
and that baby’s doing its job already
i’m saying we have to end war, all war
for them—for the babies
i ask people, do you have any grandchildren
what kind of a world do you want to leave to them?

and when I go in the schools i tell the young people
don’t go in the military, it’s very simple
how could they have a war if there weren’t any soldiers?
and they say no, no we won’t

she laughs, this tiny savior
oh, the young people, they are so cute

shigeko the lowly, come to absolve us of our sins
and from those awful scars shines ample love to save us
do we deserve so much forgiveness
and will we go and sin no more?

mary oishi

(This poem was written when I first met Shigeko several years ago. She is the only bodhisattva I have ever met, though she would never claim such a title for herself. She has "adopted" me as her daughter, a distinct honor and true joy for me).



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