Poetry: Hiroshima, Japan, 1945 by Katie Bickham
Katie Bickham’s “Hiroshima, Japan, 1945” is a masterclass in characterization within a poem. Yoshiko lives and breathes with real, genuine depth across the 36 lines—and when a poem works this hard to give us a character so delightful, wisdom is right around the corner.
Hiroshima, Japan, 1945
In the final hours of pregnancy,
Yoshiko has come to understand her skeleton.
To a woman’s small hand, the trunks
of great akamatsu trees were hard
as stones, but the right breeze bowed their tops.
Bones bent, too. A storm inside her rose, the bark
of her body grew soft, bent outward, making way.
The midwife held her hands for balance
as she crouched over old blankets. Yoshiko screamed.
“Picture something sweet, girl. Think of your man.”
Her husband’s body, soaked in seawater,
littered the Pacific with a thousand thousand others.
She hadn’t loved him, his rough hands, his ugly
fumbling in their bed. He’d struck her once.
He was weak, and it had not hurt. Sending him
to war had not moved her heart. She was able to eat
shishamo again, which he had not liked. He’d never known
about this child. It was hers entirely, hers
for every coming sunrise of her life. “Once more,”
the midwife said. Something splintered
in her spine then gave, split her wide, and slid
between her feet. “A daughter,” said the midwife,
swaddling the girl in a torn jacket. A daughter,
thought Yoshiko. Her husband would have grieved.
But Yoshiko felt a latch inside her open. A dormant flower
bloomed. The midwife settled the girl in her arms,
and Yoshiko saw her own brows and eyes, tiny, mirrored back.
The baby took her nipple. Daughter, she thought,
as the damp palms searched her breast, as the milk came.
Daughter, she thought, the war is ending.
Daughter, she thought, there will be afternoons
of jasmine, braided hair, simple suppers in the yard.
I will feed you from the garden. Daughter,
she thought, I will ferry you. I will be your shepherd
and your help. I will teach you each live thing’s name.
I will name you Asuka: the smell of tomorrow.
Katie Bickham is the author of two books of poetry: A Doorway, A Candle, A Weapon, A Ship (LSU Press 2019) and The Belle Mar (Pleiades 2015). Katie’s work has won the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Prize, the New Millenium Poetry Prize, and The Missouri Review Editor’s Prize, and her poems appear or are forthcoming from Radar, Rattle, The Missouri Review, Prairie Schooner, The New Guard, The Southern Quarterly, and elsewhere. Katie teaches creative writing at Bossier Parish Community College and lives in Louisiana with her husband, son, and oddly-shaped shelter dogs.