I don’t recall when I first understood
why you stiffen at the roar of low flying jets—
Did you tell me, Mother, or did I just know?
When you refused to show me the caves like eyes
in the hills behind Bah-chan’s house—
Did I only dream it, how when the sirens began the trains stopped
dead in their tracks, unleashing a stream of thousands to rush
blind and headlong toward those sheltering hills—
The damp press of strange bodies in darkness
rank with the stench of war’s leavings,
only imagine a young girl’s cries drowned in the tumult,
urgent groping of unseen hands—
the bombs raining d0wn on Yokohama Harbor all through
the night, hothouse blooms crackling in a seething sky,
then hissing into a boiling sea—
Was it a millennium that passed before the sirens ceased their wailing,
only to be taken up again by the dogs and the dying?
But you talk of none of this today. We walk slowly,
saying little, as if less said will keep the heat at bay.
The air is wet, heavy with summer smells
carried aloft on the hypnotic drone of cicadas.
You show me where as a girl you played in other summers,
catching kabuto beetles and dragonflies in bamboo cages.
What must go through you when we pass them
at a distance, those black maws yawning out of the hillside,
exhaling the unspeakable?

Mari L’Esperance, "Kamakura" from The Darkened Temple.  Copyright © 2008 by the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska.  Reprinted by permission of University of Nebraska Press.
Source: The Darkened Temple (University of Nebraska Press, 2008)
More Poems by Mari L'Esperance