Shadows of Hiroshima

you lie down in the artist’s trance
translating your selves onto pavement
assuming annihilation

with coloured chalk
you vaporize yourselves
leaving reminders for the dawn

sidewalks strewn with auras
around the disappeared

two-dimensional ghosts
prostrate before invisible firestorms

mundane activity obliterated
for a pantheon of shadows

the lost child
the short walk
the blasted briefcase

the muted dove in pieces

clouds of radon
around a vanishing fraction

this one went around the corner and
never was seen again

here she held the child’s hand
as they stepped out the door
into a subatomic future

this one ran off to a school
that no longer exists

here is the gesture of
someone departing on a train
that will never arrive

this is the trail of a runner
who lost the race

she stared too long

he left only his choreography

you transform yourselves to ether

your bodies circumscribed

you make yourselves a mystery
but you are not yet gone

when you come back the next day
and they’ve been washed away with the rain

The Shadow Project refers to the description of what happened when the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. According to Helen Caldicott, MD, “Because the human body is composed mostly of water, it turns into gas when exposed to thousands of degrees Celsius. When the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945… there was a blinding flash, and [a little boy reaching to catch a red dragonfly] disappeared leaving only the shadow of his body on the pavement behind him.” The Shadow Project attempts to replicate this powerful image in order to remind the public of the horrors of a nuclear war.

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Ghosts of War

I hear them gearing up for battle –
old war-horses brought back
to drill us with intemperate speech.
Mothers and fathers, wives and children
urged on to crowd the roadsides and cheer.
We’re here again, but this time,
mourning. Our cries break amid the traffic,
warn raw recruits to question their orders,
ask them to consider where they’re going.

‘We joined young when our numbers came up.
We man the frontier wherever that might be.
And now the old men are sending us out again.
You will soon be tying yellow ribbons on trees.
We’re either in their jails or at their wars
Leaving everything to our women.’

Imperial dreams are revived in secret
while weeds grow in the centre of the city
and basic needs of many remain unmet.
We ask for security in our own country
but the young are sent to foreign lands
where blood disappears in the sand.

Reporters ask us gently
if we’ve recovered from the storm.
Have we repossessed our own houses?
Have our neighbours returned?
What do immigrant households face
when clerks are free to discriminate?
None of our friends evaded taxes;
but none of them are allowed to vote.

Bodies drowned on desperate journeys
lie unclaimed along the shores of nearby seas.
Under grey skies we join the voices of hungry ghosts.

based on Tu Fu’s Song of the War-Carts

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Cadence #9

Are poems just cut-up sentences? Let’s look at a poet who does precisely that.

Philip Levine’s sixty-three line poem, Scouting, is composed of fourteen complete sentences which vary in their number of lines in the poem from one to eight. The longest sentence contains a total of forty-two words but each line is truncated after five or at most eight words. Seven of those fourteen sentences are enjambed, and all are arranged on short, centred lines with no breaks into verses. The line breaks throw into relief the last word of a line — nothing, somewhere, I, woman — creating powerful compact phrases within the flow of the narrative. This poem, like many in his collection, What Work Is, has concision and depth and suggests a much larger story.

The poetic narrative begins with ‘the man who gets off the bus’. Levine is that man and he meets a woman who asks him what he wants. The memory of that question, 40 years after she asks him, takes on a new meaning when he declares to us that ‘No,/ it was yesterday…’ and all the details are still available to him. His poem, seemingly staying close to memory and storytelling, goes ‘higher up the mountain’ and ‘nowhere, in darkness’. The ‘you’ he addresses in the poem, appearing at first to be the reader, may be read as his earlier self and also as that earlier self addressing the older writer. Levine is clear that he doesn’t have the answers to the many questions that resonate in this short poem; he’s ‘scouting, getting the feel of the land’. The accretion of rhythmically written, connotative sentences builds into a fully realized poem.

One might say that prose is simply writing that goes to the end of the page. If ‘prose’ is made up of these personal, allusive and powerful sentences, in this particular order, with these considered line lengths, then let’s call it poetry.

Nicholas Power

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The Other

we Others in their city
are an and, a but, and a they
these cities belong to their cars
ready-made roads across meaning
where we dwell in their afterthoughts
in byways that once had the openness of villages
the city is a phenomenon of belief as well as living
that scrapes dust away from romantic ideals
no longer their transported cornucopia
our senses bribed by nothingness
yet questioning whose land
their possibilities of enterprise
as if productivity is redevelopment
and poverty no longer a modern condition

forced from our homelands of barren cattle
money systems intervening from afar
in their city our women are truth
our old heroes turned to stone
what are not wages is naked loss
secret amounts our only achievements
their boasts are lewd, their words: ‘You’re fired’
our expressions deliberately define our empty pockets
her centre is bread and their offering is stone
her room is a stable, her baby swaddled
his ox is a fact that can’t give milk
persevering in our presence
we’re far from their table

beneath their city of dreams
we awaken into our own bodies
waking up to everything that’s real
awakening into their difference and division
where their North shapes power through materials
where they maintain effective societies through controls
where every law protects every thing they’ve developed
let’s enter their dream and see ourselves as we are
see through semantics of us being undeveloped
leave out dependent state and third world
be the opposite of writing a poem
become the poem itself
be the one excluded
recent immigrant
fortune’s apparition
on whom the door closes
one initially of their same worth
once down in a hole in a forest burnt
carrying wood on our backs through their fire
now following a journey from scorched earth to rebuilding

with thanks to John Berger’s The Seventh Man

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The people’s avatar

This one-eyed jack, this pop-up, this joker
This arrogator, this poor billionaire
This matchstick to hard wood, this fire poker
This bombastic firework flashing in air

His flesh will fade since he’s simply mortal
Brittle celebrity not withstanding
His wife’s in diamonds at their gala ball
But he will not be the last man standing

Reality T.V. made him a star
Despite a secret wish to fire us all
Flaunts himself as the people’s avatar
Like his stock on Wall Street, he too will fall

Blustering sucker puncher, angry, smug
For now he gives orders like one more thug

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Dreaming of Trees

walking at night in the woods between my childhood home and the river
fully awake and wondering, in a dream both strange and familiar
particular trees reach out like lovers, breathing in their distinct rhythms
rough skins pulsating with heat, colours of their chemicals glowing with
rich greens and deep blues, druidic mysteries and radio waves
I am drawn by their yearning, their knowing, and their intimacy
a filament sprouts from my hip to the nearest tree, shimmering, transparent
trembling with desire, I am rooted in the same ground

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Still Standing

white traces of a broom mark the blue
where morning sky is swept clean
dogs are silent and crows hold their tongues
while citizens of Rathdrum stir in their sleep

on the green where Parnell’s statue stands
– ancient rebel meeting ground
fir trees guard the eastern front
– tall soldiers where they need not be
a locked iron gate bars the way
in remains of walls that still hold firm

sparrows come and go through the park
a stream slips under the southern wall
an island of turf and rounded rock
holds its rough ground out on the pond
one ancient misshapen tree stands
where Parnell’s bronze gaze rests
beyond his crossed arms and bold right foot
this town continues to hold him in memory

I heard no words until Parnell spoke
wrote nothing down until I walked the green
I was half-blind until the sun reached the glen
I stood for nothing until I stood here

for Brodie Power
Ireland, Summer 2006

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