Mark Antony Rossi - Issue 106

Black Eggs, Poems by Kurihara Sadako, Translated with an Introduction and Notes by Richard H. Minear, ($34.95, 329 pp.) Center for Japanese Studies, The University of Mchigan, 108 Lane Hall, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-1290

Kurihara Sadako, one of Japan's greatest 20th century poets has released "Black Eggs," an expanded collection of poems that incorporates the original 1946 Hiroshima manuscript "Black Eggs" and the finest examples of her post-Hiroshima poetry. As translated by Professor Richard H. Minear, Kurihara Sadako's personal story is as unique and inspiring as her poetry.

She published her first major collection of poetry "Black Eggs" in 1946 but was unable to avoid the American Occupation's censorship regulations. Ironically, in this interim period, these regulations were more oppressive than the censors of the former Japanese Imperial Government. The censorship authorities, employing local Japanese editors, struck out a number of poems from her manuscript as well as other writers bold enough to document the horrors of atomic aftermath.

"Black Eggs" survived and moderately prospered selling 3,000 copies. Its censored poems were not published until thirty-seven years later in 1983. In the years following she continued to write, composing hundreds of poems and essays, most concentrating on Hiroshima, its victims and the need for a world-wide anti-nuclear ban.

Mrs. Kurihara was born and raised in Hiroshima and was present on that fatal day, 6 August 1945, the day the Atom Bomb changed the world and Kurihara Sadako forever, transforming her life from shopkeeper to one of Japan's bravest and most honest social and literary writers. With pen in hand; moral in heart, she tore down the thick curtain blinding average Japanese from truly understanding the third-class citizenry accorded Korean minorities. Speaking ever louder in literature and public rallies she demanded the best treatment possible for all suffering victims of atomic radiation. By reminding her fellow countrymen in stark language of Japan's role as aggressor during the Chinese occupation - a stand not popular then or now - she nevertheless married that ugly truth with the memory of Hiroshima. A moral acceptance she coined "dual awareness" of Japan's role as victim and victimizer.

In "The Day Of The Atom Bomb," Japan is the victim and Mrs. Kurihara is two and half miles from ground zero:

 "Frightening/street of hell-/each moment/
 the number of refugees/grows. Me refugees
 all/have burns;/clothes/are seared/onto
 skin.[Uninjured/but utterly naked,/a young
 girl fleeing-/I give her/my child's
 underpants./The road to the aid station/
 outside of town:/the line of refugees/
 stretches on/ and on./On the relief trucks/
 the bodies of the dead/and the injured,/
 blistered and/horrible."

Contrast that poem with "When We say, 'Hiroshima'," a potent piece describing Japan as victimizer. Not unexpectedly, this poem has a greater audience outside of the island:

 "When We Say,'Hiroshima',"

 "When we say "Hiroshima,"/do people answer,
 gently,/ "Ah,'Hiroshima? ... /Say"Hiroshima,"
 and hear" Pearl Harbor.'/Say "Hiroshima,"
 and hear "Rape of Nanjing."/Say "Hiroshima,"
 and hear women and children in Manila/thrown
 into trenches, doused with gasoline,/and
 burned alive./Say "Hiroshima,"/and hear
 echoes of blood and fire./"Ah, 'Hiroshima',"
 /we first must/wash the blood/off our own hands."

As these two poems indicate, the poet is sometimes caught in a chaos that demands abandonment of aesthetically-pleasing abstracts in order to instill in art an accurate recording of. history. There are terrible periods in our lives when art must become more than decoration or academic discussion, but bridge the jagged voids created by our society's collective fear. Japan has yet to fully acknowledge the latter of the two truths painfully composed. But, at least, the blueprint does exist for future generations.

Mrs. Kurihara has also written extensively on the link between Hiroshima and the Holocaust, discovering the emotional and literary consequences brought about when a people are nearly destroyed. The "witness syndrome" as I call it, bums deep in survivors, forging a fiery conviction to share with the world what has happened. A way to remeriiber and honour the dead. A way to cement in history an event that must never happen again. And quite possibly, a way to retain one's own sanity pummeled by sweaty nightmares and the guilt in having escaped death.

As written in "Hiroshima, Auschwitz: We Must Not Forget," the linkage is powerful and entirely justified:

 "Hiroshima, Auschwitz: we must not forget. 
 Nagasaki, Auschwitz: we must not forget. 
 Even if the first time was a mistake, the
 second time will be a calculated malice.
 The vow we made to the dead: we must not

On a literary and psychological plane an interesting development emerges throughout the collection. Tanka, the ancient Japanese poetic structure of syllable divisions consisting of 5-7-5-7-7, is reserved for the works of sorrow and homage as in "City Ravaged by Flames," written in 1945:

 "Amid rubble /ravaged by flames/the last
 moments /of thousands: /what sadness! /
 Thousands of people,/tens of thousands:
 /lost/the instant/the bomb exploded./
 silent, all soffows/unspoken,/city of
 rubble/ravaged by flames:/autumn rain falls."

Whereas free verse, a poetic structure just barely over a hundred years old, plays a more upbeat role. An optimistic stance willing to begin again as demonstrated in the post-Hiroshima poem "Reconstruction" written in 1946:

 "withchild, spouse, mother dead,/
 who needs a large house?/
 Inthe small shacks/ the survivors
 call constantly, "come closer,"/keep
 each other warm, and carry on.,,

I cannot resist commenting on the tanka, free verse contrasts and I often speculate on why her boldest and freest sentiments are found in free verse. A certain positive strength exists in her free verse that leapfrogs tanka testaments of horror and melancholy. Almost as if a kind of unconscious unshackling of the Old Imperial Social Order was taking place-tanka, representing the old, free verse, the future.

While it's true to say that meditations on Hiroshima make up a significant part of this manuscript, it's not fair to leave out the dozens of poe@s that reflect upon the world's conflicts and nuclear messes such as Vietnam, the accident at Three Mile Island, the tactical nuclear missiles once stationed at the English bases in Greenham Common and issues of feminism and the future hope that lessons will be carved from the twisted ruin's of man's inhumanity to man.

In poems like "May," describing the brutal murder of protestors in the May 1980 South Korean uprising, and "American Tragedy," lamenting the cancer-striken residents of post-nuclear testing Nevada, Mrs. Kurihara is ever present, consistent in speaking for the dead and dying who cannot speak of the wrongs leveled against them. In both her fights in the abolition of nuclear power and the strengthening of human rights this poet has not forgotten what so many people would rather shove under the post-Cold War rug. The enormous price and legacy of the Cold War lives in her writings like angels heaven-sent to jump-start our hearts and minds. Forever reminding humanity of its character flaws that turn god-like powerful technology into man-made waves of mass destruction.

After the recent killing fields of Rwanda and the current ones of Bosnia, we so desperately need to pay heed to her voice ringing softly and eternally true in "Let The Sun Shine On The Children:

 Let's bring back the lost smell of plants
 and the voices on song,
 lift up our eyes, and stride toward tomorrow."