Steve Almond’s Bad Poetry Corner #13: In Hiroshima


(Writing wretched verse so you don’t have to since 1995)

In Hiroshima

In Hiroshima, after the bomb
the sick lay close as lovers,
the strong put tags on those
who stood no chance
later to be flayed by fire

They brought peace, then, there,
by splitting the smallest thing men know
and here, now, you and
I divide the opposite
asking without speaking:

are we ready for such a tag
and who will put on who,
which of us will lie half-awake, lovedying,
shocked at the sharp end of something
wielded by the other?

You know how it works in the Bad Poet game: everything is exalted, everything is glowing with the malignant radiance of your own ego, everything is fodder. So John Hersey, unbeknownst to himself, was not just writing the seminal account of the 20th century’s preeminent atrocity. No, he was also writing to provide me a rather dubious metaphor for one of the many grudges by which I wiled away my days in graduate school. I can’t remember who it is I was writing this poem about, or at. It could have been a hundred convenient antagonists. So many feuds, as the French say, so little temp.

You will notice, in addition to my loose appreciation of the comma and its correct grammatical deployment – a hallmark of the Bad Poet – my use of the compound neologism (“lovedying”). This no doubt means I had been reading Faulkner. I remember Light in August giving me quite a tumble.

But what was I really writing about? What are we ever really writing about? Our families. Our kin. The authentic ghosts, the folks we can’t rid ourselves of by other means. So this must have been about one or both of my brothers, and the fierce, calamitous love that has fired us into different orbits. All the big explosions, the ones you later inappropriately compare to mass murders, they must happen to us in childhood, when we feel most helpless.

Auden had it right. Freud wasn’t just some sexist relic, to be poked at by angry PhD candidates. He was our prophet of the inner past, a man who loved children and recognized the long toll of their injuries, who showed us what evil is, not, as we thought/deeds that must be punished, but our lack of faith/our dishonest mood of denial. Jesus. Auden. We should give that guy a fucking holiday.

As it is, I had only this Bad Poem, this dishonest mood of denial, which I suppose he would have endured and even forgiven me.

Here’s Ms. Kay Johnson, of Frost Junction, Idaho, who has her own bridge to burn. Ms. Johnson appears, like so many of us, deeply entrusted to her misery…

Flame Flickers

wax wanes
wick slides down
walls remain
barriers tremble
by will of heat
a slow, slow race
to claim defeat

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Steve Almond's most recent book, Against Football, was a New York Times bestseller for at least three seconds. More from this author →