April Naoko Heck
Issue No. 9 • April 2013
Early August, 1945
for Obaasan, my great-grandmother
She lives with her daughter and son-in-law in a two-room
house that has lost one member but will soon gain
her girl is pregnant with her first child, my mother.
One night, a knock on the door, a young man with a letter,
another call for volunteers.
Is volunteers in quotation marks?
Each household must send one person to Hiroshima
the next morning. Bring rope, the letter says.
Her son-in-law rips the letter in half, refuses to go.
Swears the family’s sacrificed enough.
Later, when no one’s looking, she pastes the words together
with a smear of soft rice. With her daughter pregnant,
Obaasan elects herself to go.
Who else will obey the emperor’s command?
Then my mother said:
“When my mother walked to the temple
to search among the people lying in rows,
she barely recognized her mother.
‘Is that you?’ my mother said.
A monk gave them a skull from the crematorium,
prescribed crushed bone for burns.
Just as one neighbor believed in ground potato as a salve
and another ate pounds of tomatoes,
Obaasan believed that the bone saved her.
‘It was like lighting,’ she’d
always say, ‘must’ve been electricity.’”