by the time

We show up in Moscow three months after the first gap appears in the Berlin Wall. Is the Cold War still on, or is it over? No one’s sure, but the Russians are playing it safe. This isn’t like studying abroad in France or Spain, where they find a nice family to stash you with and you learn to speak the language over leisurely European dinners. Here we have our own separate-but-equal American wing in a fourteen-story dormitory for foreign students, most of the rest of whom are from the Eastern Bloc. The wing opposite us is full of Bulgarians who are always burning their food in the kitchen we share and won’t talk to us. None of the other students will talk to us. Only the black-market dealers and illegal-currency traders are interested in being our friends. They speak perfect English and have great clothes, so we feel right at home with them. They cheat us constantly, of course, and cast a wolfish eye over our piles of amazing American stuff, but that, too, feels familiar. We came from lives that—we now realize—were mostly about wanting, and shortly thereafter acquiring, stuff. Life here is different. Life here has the slightly tinny sound of a five-kopeck piece dropping into the fare box on the tram, and the thin, fragile texture of the paper ticket you tear off with a mittened hand to prove you paid.

by the time
another war
harvest moon


prose: here, now. haiku: Frogpond 38.1.

August 6: Hiroshima Day

looking at mushrooms and saying they are clouds

the sixth of August        waiting for all this to detonate

those memories       shadows burned into the pavement

*

Hiroshima Day is a summer kigo that is, obviously, very significant to the Japanese. As you’d expect, most haiku on this subject are quite somber and serious, and are much more likely to refer to history, politics, and social issues than your typical haiku.

I didn’t want to write something light and frivolous for Hiroshima Day, but I also didn’t want to write haiku that were specifically about the bombing — I wanted to write haiku that used images of nuclear bomb attacks to comment on more personal matters. It’s hard to know whether this approach is respectful of the suffering of the bombing victims or whether it’s cluelessly callous — after all, it was my country that dropped those bombs, albeit a generation before I was born.

I will say that I spent a large part of my later childhood and adolescent years, which coincided with the heightening of and then the end of the Cold War, very, very fearful of nuclear war, and so these images for me do have a personal significance that goes beyond the history of Hiroshima. I think there is an almost universal fear of nuclear war now in the human psyche, which has arisen from what we know of the horrors of those Japanese bombings. So it’s not really that I’m trying to appropriate someone else’s experience here for the purpose of making poetry, more that I’m trying to express what has become universal about that experience.

Man, sorry to be such a bummer on what is, here at least, a really beautiful summer day. I promise to have something more fun to read tomorrow …