Poetry News

On Mariko Nagai's Continually Moving Irradiated Cities

By Harriet Staff
Mariko Nagai _IrradiatedCities_Cover

Dennis James Sweeney reviews poet and writer Mariko Nagai's Irradiated Cities (Les Figues Press, 2017) for Newfound, a nonprofit publisher and journal based in Austin, Texas. There are photographs here, in addition to text: "The photographs are Sebaldian in not prizing technical accomplishment; they are not Sebaldian in the unambiguity of their grief, invested in them by the page-long prose blocks that accompany the photos at a ratio of roughly one to four." More:

These prose blocks are punctuated simply, with colons between each short phrase as if to draw an endless stream of conclusions that cannot conclude. In the space Nagai inhabits “before the after,” time proceeds as a continual iteration of the devastation of the bomb. Even the time beforethe before, when “no cloud is in the sky” is patently impossible: “mothers are always beautiful, & fathers are always strong and kind.” As if all that preceded the book cannot be contained by it, the first motion of the book is a colon. The last, unlike any other motion in the book, is two.

The two colons (“::”) that end “Irradiated Cities” might be a final generosity, a gesture toward closure in a work that is primarily concerned with the impossibility of that. It might represent the two pillars that stood beneath the dark pedestal before one disappeared. My feeling, however, is that it represents the interminable present, the fact that the ongoing interrogation Nagai undertakes must finally end in being—not for those who interrogate, but for the victims of irradiation, whose stories are no longer stories but a life.

The most moving sections of a continually moving (and often graphic and unsettling) book are those in which Nagai voices the tiresomeness of being a hibashuka, an irradiated person:

: there is only one narrative & nothing else : their stories must be tragic : their lives must be bound to loneliness & pain & loss : they must carry the visible wounds for all to see :

These are the spaces in which unambiguous sorrow is no longer sustainable, no longer adequate... 

Read the full review at Newfound.

Originally Published: April 4th, 2018