Three Poems by Amit Majmudar

Niju Hibakusha
Tsutomu Yamaguchi makes shadow puppets on the wall for his first daughter.
Hare, butterfly, dog. Airplane.
Sole vestige of the bicycle: the bicycle’s negative image
branded on the pavement. The rider, too, tattooed there:
Twin dharma wheels, spokes pickled in ink.
Tsutomu Yamaguchi survived Hiroshima in a silk skin sleeve and rode a bicycle
to report for work three days later
in Nagasaki.
In a wooden house, a catshaped blind spot floated across a paper wall
in the nanosecond before the shockwave spotlit her leap.
Heavy water shivered a teakettle.
Locomotive-steam incense appeased a valley.
Nagasaki whistled, twisting oblivious wisteria into her hair.
Black rain thick as hot tar pocked constellations onto Tsutomu Yamaguchi’s bandages,
inverted chart of stars that survived hydrogen fusion.
Tsutomu Yamaguchi inks a book of poems years after his hair grows back blacker
than the week he watched two earthborne stars crown,
blast crater follicles seeded each with the shadows of hairs that grew there once.
Tsutomu Yamaguchi feeds his second daughter with a spoon.
He makes airplane noises.
Outside, on the street: a bicycle’s thumb bell.
Tinnitus calling the kami to come.
Uranium, polonium, chrysanthemum.
In Hiroshima, after the plane passed overhead, he looked up
and, seeing a parachute open,
mistook in the nanosecond before the blast exposes his flesh like photographic film
Little Boy for an American paratrooper.
I hoped he would land without breaking his legs. But also that he would be promptly caught.
He vomited intestinal mucosa like inside-out snakeskin.
Burns, cataracts. If you count the leukemia, a triple survivor.
A malignant nucleus divides too wildly, setting off a chain reaction.
Tsutomu Yamaguchi vomits black tar once again, his stomach snakesloughing itself
in his granddaughter’s house
in a rhyme that hints at the cyclicity of time, the circular reasoning
of should we or shouldn’t we drop it.
Wheel of dharma. Centrifuge of dharma.
Tsutomu Yamaguchi at five years old learned to ride a bicycle.
Tsutomu Yamaguchi is teaching his granddaughter to ride a bicycle
in Nagasaki
in early August.
The dark urns of the clouds glow with rain. He looks up.
Thunder detonates, and a drop of rain targets the back of his hand.
And now a second drop. His mother
his grown daughter
his granddaughter calls to him, calls him indoors
to a concrete roof and walls of graph paper
inked, tattooed, branded with calculations of yield.
Tsutomu Yamaguchi, fissioning into all his ages all at once,
shuts his eyes with their spokewheel irises.
Come in, grandfather.
He sees the black shadow of sight branded long ago on the insides of his eyelids.
Come in, son.
His eyelids never glow red anymore, not even when he faces the rising sun.
Come in from the black rain, father. Your memory has had decades to heal.
Wipe the black tar from the corner of your mouth.
Peel the snakeskin gauze from your burn.
All things shiver, but some things shiver
more than others, shiver
with a tapped tuning fork’s
whole-body blur, like mountain ranges and desert
heat shimmers and psychedelic fires recognized
early on as sacred, our watering eyes
coated with a natural lacrimal
lens to let us see the shivering
in real time, that ringing in the ears
complained of in a doctor’s office
just the ossicles and eardrum catching some
cosmic engine-hum,
and that spotted knobby-knuckled hand
held out for inspection, stubbornly
wobbly, benign essential tremor,
or restless legs syndrome, the legs kicking
and twitching like a dreaming dog’s,
no cure for these things, sorry, it comes with age,
comes at the end, the skeleton
unstiffened, holding fast against the godgust
no longer, that leaflike
shaking honest for once about the approach
of death, no more faux-yogic
“stillness,” no, the teeth chatter in June,
knees knock, lips quiver
until the frequency speeds up,
the whole body blurs, and two elderly forked creatures
embrace, wife and husband desperate to stop
their cold bones, bodies pinched together
like breath-ruffled vocal cords
around a single word,
unless the shiver
catches her alone after midnight
on the threshold between bedroom and bathroom
where, standing on tiptoe, she floats
until her body’s plucked guitar string finishes its note.
She doesn’t have a dozen borzois
to thread the fog. No horse, no horn—
But her footfalls make the foxes go
as pale as hares, reborn.
She’s never flushed and shot a pheasant,
much less a weasel sinner.
No skinning knife, no kind of kit.
But she’s still got meat for dinner.
Of course, you’ll never see her coming.
But if you did, you’d find
a woman whistling to herself
with meadows on her mind—
a birder, maybe, thrilled by a finch,
by cobwebs jeweled with dew.
But don’t be fooled by her casual shoes.
She’s out here hunting you.
Amit Majmudar’s new books in 2023 include Black Avatar and Other Essays (Acre Books) as well as Twin A: A Memoir (Slant Books).

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