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  • ELLEN McATEER

NAGASAKI 1945


(After an eyewitness account by Dr Tatsuichiro Akizuki)

At 10.30 the siren sounded, at 11 o’clock the all-clear. Sticking a needle into a patient, I heard a drone as the plane, lost in the cloud, dropped her baby.

It fell silently one and a half miles from its target. It fell for 40 seconds, and in that 40 seconds, every move that people made became a choice between life and death.

Strike. The buildings turned red. Electricity poles bloomed like matches, trees like torches. Three kinds of colour, black, yellow and scarlet, loomed over the people, who scattered like ants. An ocean of fire A sky of smoke.

Then the people started coming up the hill. Naked, ash-white, groaning from deep inside, their faces like masks. Behind these ghosts walked corpses burned black. Medicines, needles, and bandages burned, as I walked on cancer, barefoot.

A mother and child, naked, drowned, locked in each others arms, floated downstream, still connected by the chord: they were the lucky ones. We saved many lives that day, But then, one by one, The people we had saved Began dying.

The charred and wounded were gathered in flat carts like fish to market. Walking among the victims of this mysterious plague, I felt insensible, lifeless, like a ghost myself. A soldier passed the groups of dead and dying: 'Shame on you! You’re a doctor! Why don’t you help them? Help them!' 'It is you that did this,' I replied.

Ellen McAteer was born in London and brought up in Glasgow. She currently lives in Suffolk. Her poetry pamphlet Honesty Mirror won first prize in the New Writer Magazine for 2013, and she was shortlisted for the Baker Prize in the same year. She was a mentee of the Clydebuilt Verse Apprenticeship Scheme under Alexander Hutchison, and a singer with the band Stone Tape. A prizewinning songwriter, she has had poetry and prose published in magazines and anthologies, and a play at the Edinburgh Fringe recorded for radio. She is the founder of tell it slant poetry bookshop in Glasgow, and a visiting lecturer at the Glasgow School of Art and on the University of Oxford Creative Writing MSt. Ellen was Director of the Poetry Trust, and directed the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival for 2015. She was previously a director of the Scottish Writers’ Centre and member of Hammer & Tongue spoken word collective in Oxford.

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