Note: My poems about America are all about wars, like these from “Wars Don’t Happen Anymore” (Deerbrook Editions, 2015). The title of the first poem below, "Now we are all sons of bitches," was the remark made to Robert Oppenheimer by the physicist Kenneth Bainbridge on July 16, 1945, after the first successful atomic explosion at Los Alamos, New Mexico.
Now we are all sons of bitches
except in the mind of a nine-year-old aware of the small star flown to Japan to astound an Emperor discerning the cloud that rises from limbs, burns and suns expanding in children’s bones unseen as well as folded cranes and all was well in the land where the astounding star was born to be stowed on a plane so God could let the fathers come home.
1945: The Missouri of Memory
I’ll never forget it my mother said
whether or not it had happened.
In the end she forgot it.
No wonder. I can’t keep the facts
straight either. Take the ceremony
aboard that battleship.
It was, I thought, engraved
in my mind but I confused
the date, thinking it was August.
That was the month we dropped
the bombs. They waited until September
to sign the Terms of Surrender.
I listened on the first radio I ever had
in my room. At eight, I listened
with bated breath as if
a last-minute hitch might prevent
the men from signing, prolonging
the War for the rest of my life!
But they signed! They signed! MacArthur
in his khaki shirt, the Japanese minister
in a top hat of shame.
I thought the sorry world
would change then and there,
and become a ballroom
for President Truman clad
in ermine. Citizens would bring
their wronged lives for him to put right.
I’d bring my father, tired and ill
on account of the War and a bad heart.
But that day he got out of bed.
We walked to the village where bells
were pealing. We sang thankful hymns
on the second day of September,
a month I might have remembered
as happy except
for the tired heart that stopped
on the twenty-fourth, or—
I’m not sure—
it might have been the day before.
My mother lived so long…
that two of her brothers-
in-law fought in the Great War—
Owen, fallen in the Dardanelles,
Allan, scarred by flames
that consumed his fragile plane,
… so long she grieved year after year
for her cousin born at the height
of the First War, shot at the start
of the Second, Mort pour la France.
“instantly, painlessly,” she was told—
…long enough to be half-blind
in a nursing home when
the glow and rumble of Desert Storm
reminded her of a peasant girl
named Joan burned alive in 1431.
“That was long ago. I was young,”
she said. “War was terrible. Thank God
it doesn’t happen any more.”
© 2018 Sarah White
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