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It wasn't supposed to happen in Nagasaki. When the list of targets for the atomic bomb was drawn up, Nagasaki wasn't even on it, despite being a major port and a large centre for shipbuilding and repairs. The chosen sites were Hiroshima, Yokohama, Kokura, Niigata and Kyoto.


But the US Secretary of War, Henry Stimson. had spent his honeymoon in Kyoto and asked President Truman to remove it from the list because of its many historic and cultural buildings. Nagasaki, a major producer of naval ordnance and steel, was selected instead.


On the morning of 9th August 1945 the bomber carrying Fat Man, the second nuclear bomb, took off for Kokura. Takeoff was delayed by half an hour because the support planes failed to rendezvous at the correct time.  By then clouds and black smoke from a firebombing attack on a nearby town were drifting across the city. Three bomb runs over Kokura were made but the pilot did not have clear sight of the target and the plane diverted to Nagasaki.


Although most of Nagasaki's buildings were flimsy wooden ones of traditional Japanese design, Fat Man was more than 1000 pounds heavier than the first bomb, Little Boy. But the city's geography meant the explosion was contained in the Urakami Valley area and casualties were lower, probably over 35000 deaths and 60000 injured.

Peter CLive

August 9th 1945


The sky inhaled the earth today.

At 11am the cloudy Kyushu sky

breathed in. It sucked the earth up

through a long sore smoky throat

into a lung of fire,

and when it finally breathed out

it raised the city up on its palm

and pursed its lips

and blew away the ashes of our bones.

Secondary target


It should have been Kokura,

not us. But for clouds and cockups,

it would have been Kokura.

And after the bomber diverted to Okinawa

because the reserve tank pump had failed

and it wouldn't make it back to Tinian

and the engines cut out on landing

due to fuel exhaustion,

the newspapers even got its name wrong:

it was the Bockscar, not the Great Artiste;

and its target was Nagasaki, not Kokura.


Image by Jordy Meow from Pixabay 


Nagasaki Priestess

The story goes that when the bomb fell down on Nagasaki

and all were screaming and shrieking

some rushed to the nearest Zen temple for succour

in their last moments.


They rushed into the main temple

plain and unadorned

save for the half-opened sliding wall

that looked onto a raked gravel garden


There at the wall

sat the head abbot

still as can be

deep in her simple practice


The death cries from all around the city

resonated in the temple hall

and one of those who had sought refuge

shouted at the old priestess


‘Don’t you know the city is destroyed

and all the people are burning

from fire and ash in the skies?

Don’t you know it will burn you to cinders

in the blink of an eye?’


The old woman opened her eyes

and said

‘Don’t you know I will burn to cinders

without blinking my eyes

if that is to be my fate today?’


And all the people

who had sought safety in the temple

sat down in wonder beside her

and meditated silently

in the peace of peace

in the midst of death.


Nagasaki, in time, recovered

And Japan, in time, knew peace.


(Adapted from an old Japanese story of a samurai attack on a village)


Image by WikiImages from Pixabay 


Nagasaki 1946


Path erupting with rubble, months

after the bomb. Careful, says

my mother, hand out to grip me

when I trip on loose stones.


The water is clear in the harbour.

Violet flowers poke through boulders.

Soon, I think. Come soon.

My stomach aches with waiting.


Hills in the distance slope down

to the water, peaceful as sleeping dogs.

But in the harbour, strange, gelatinous

creatures come floating to the surface.


Grotesque... deformed... tumours bursting

through slimy, translucent skin.

Just baby jellyfish, says

omaa-san. Don't be a silly girl.


But I have seen these monstrous

faces before. They swim in my dreams,

burrow into my brain when I sleep.

Please don't be one of them.


Nagasaki 2020


So many times I've watched her,

Butterfly, stand at the top of the hill,

searching, eyes raking the sea  

for his ship, yearning for him to return.

Her Yankee vagabond lover, a gipsy -

with officer's stripes and a private income.


She stands outside her little house,

concertina house, whose paper

screens fold this way and that, enlarging

the space inside for her well fed husband

as she, moulding herself this way

and that, becomes an American wife.


The lease too is pliable,

nine hundred and ninety nine

years or else - month by month.

Such oriental ingenuity

is nothing to later triumphs won

by international co-operation.


Alliances between his countrymen

and Nazi scientists are far in the future.

For now Butterfly gives him her heart.

Fifteen years old, she has nothing

else. He, stronger and richer,

jettisons morals for desire.


A blinding flash. Butterfly,

ravishing, innocent Butterfly,

comes from Nagasaki, the city

ravaged by the bomb. Seventy

five years on, I watch

her story unfold with new eyes.


Meaning folded into words

transforms in the process. An emperor's

refusal to surrender - yet -

becomes a licence to men aching

to test their toys, to watch the bomb

fall, the skies fill with smoke

and flame, to see buildings crumble.

Careless of how many it kills.


Oh Butterfly, marry your rich

suitor, hold your son close.

Stay inside that little house.

Slide the screens shut. Do not

wait there, looking into the distance

for your faithless lover's return.


The wisp of smoke appears on

the horizon. Povera Butterfly.

Her exquisite love song

pours down the hill, as innocence

waits to be betrayed

over and over and over again.

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