“How Could I Ever Forget That Flash,” by Mitsuyoshi Toge

November 29th, 2007

How could I ever forget that flash of light!
In a moment, thirty thousand people ceased to be,
The cries of fifty thousand killed
At the bottom of crushing darkness;

Through yellow smoke whirling into light,
Buildings split, bridges collapsed,
Crowded trams burnt as they rolled about
Hiroshima, all full of boundless heaps of embers.
Soon after, skin dangling like rags;
With hands on breasts;
Treading upon the broken brains;
Wearing shreds of burn cloth round their loins;
There came numberless lines of the naked,
all crying.
Bodies on the parade ground, scattered like
jumbled stone images of Jizo;
Crowds in piles by the river banks,
loaded upon rafts fastened to the shore,
Turned by and by into corpses
under the scorching sun;
in the midst of flame
tossing against the evening sky,
Round about the street where mother and
brother were trapped alive under the fallen house
The fire-flood shifted on.
On beds of filth along the Armory floor,
Heaps, and God knew who they were …
Heaps of schoolgirls lying in refuse
Pot-bellied, one-eyed, with half their skin peeled
off bald.
The sun shone, and nothing moved
But the buzzing flies in the metal basins
Reeking with stagnant ordure.
How can I forget that stillness
Prevailing over the city of three hundred thousands?
Amidst that calm,
How can I forget the entreaties
Of departed wife and child
Through their orbs of eyes,
Cutting through our minds and souls?

—Mitsuyoshi Toge

Mitsuyoshi Toge (February 1917–March 1953) was a Japanese Catholic poet, born in Osaka in 1917 to a successful brick manufacturer. He began writing poetry as an adolescent; by 1945 he composed three thousand tanka and even more haiku. A mistaken diagnosis of tuberculosis in 1938 kept him mostly bed-ridden throughout World War II. Toge was living in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, when, at 8:15 in the morning, Thomas Ferebee, the bombadier for the American B-29 bomber Enola Gay, dropped an atomic bomb over the city center, under orders from his commanding officer, Paul Tibbets, and at the behest of the General Curtis LeMay, U.S. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, and ultimately Harry S. Truman, the President of the United States of America. The bomb burned alive over one third of the population of the city, and its effects killed a total of about 140,000 people — over half of Hiroshima’s population — by the end of 1945. In addition to the unspeakable mass death, Hiroshima was shattered and decimated, with nine-tenths of all the buildings in the city reduced to ruins by the combination of the heat, the shockwave, and the outbreak of fires throughout the city. Toge witnessed the explosion and its effects on his home first hand. After the war was over, Toge began to write new poetry that was strikingly different his earlier lyric poetry, haiku, and tanka. His first collection of poems about the atomic bomb, Genbaku shishu (Poems of the Atomic Bomb), was published in 1951. He died young–only 36 years old–in 1953. This poem is reprinted from a 1978 anthology, Hiroshima-Nagasaki: A Pictorial Record of the Atomic Destruction.