Literary Hook: A poem in honor of Hiroshima

While attending the Burning Word Festival in Whidbey Island, Wash., a few years ago, I was poking around in an antique store in Port Townsend, Wash. Port Townsend is a wonderful Victorian village nestled between the Olympic Mountains and the Cascade Mountains, and a ferry ride from Whidbey Island. I have been returning to Port Townsend ever since I first went there for the Centrum Writers’ Conference in 1986. As a side bar, the Centrum Writers’ Conference, held at Fort Worden, was excellent. I worked with Lisel Mueller, who ironically is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet from the Chicago area.

Not only does the Northwest terrain speak to my soul, but a number of literary opportunities also exist out there: PoetsWest, Burning Word and Centrum—to name a few. By the way, the Burning Word Festival is put on by the Washington Poets Association and is held at the Greenbank farm on Whidbey Island.

But back to the antique store… I stumbled across an area marked Nippon, which means Japanese. Besides the delightful Nippon vases I collect, there was a painting that disturbed me. As I examined it, I remembered something a college professor once said: artists sometimes predict the future without knowing it.

Because this week commemorates the bombing at Hiroshima, I thought this poem appropriate. It is not a political poem, but rather about art and its ability to transcend time. This poem has been published in Out of Line (Trenton, Ohio, journal, 2006, with Sam Longmire as editor), Tattoos on Cedar (the Washington Poets Association anthology, 2006), and in Who Walks Among the Trees with Charity (book, Wind Publications), and the Illinois State Poetry Society (Web site, 2005).

Sparrows Falling from the Sky

The soprano, whose voice is brilliant

As fire, sings the aria from Madam Butterfly

On the radio in the Port Townsend Antique Store.

The notes build like snow before an avalanche

On Mount Baker across the bay.

This could be heaven, I am thinking

Examining the quirky Nippon vases

I have grown fond of: the ardor of their attempts

At European Baroque foiled

By the ever- graceful elongated necks

Of snow geese, the calligraphy of stylized trees.

How I love this upstart marriage of East and West.

The aria reaches its zenith when I enter

Booth #23, a dark cove devoted to things Nippon:

The era before Pearl Harbor,

Before the high society ladies scratched off

Nippon from the bottom of tea sets

Delicate and filigreed as small, old hands.

The aria reaches its zenith, which

Would have been enough to fog my glasses,

Enough to flood my eyes. But

There on the wall a strange painting

Startles me. It is so topsy-turvy, so unidealized

I have to get closer to it to see what gives.

A cacophony of bird wings, helter-skelter

Like a firestorm, in faded red and muddy

Charcoal. Birds adrift like autumn leaves.

It reads: Sparrows Falling from the Sky.

Hiroshima. Circa 1900. Artist Unknown.

It grips me by the throat—rain on my face.


The correct Web site address for Murder in Galena, featured in the July 25-31, 2007, Literary Hook, is

from the Aug 1-7, 2007, issue

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