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.’”