Poetry and Poetics
—Honshu, Japan, 1945
Grandmother warns her to behave
like the daughter of a warrior.
Cloth air raid helmet in place,
she marches in formation with
the other girls from school, singing
loyalty to the Emperor. At the arsenal
she vows to fill her quota. To fail
is unforgivable. They make layers
of paper, the size of tatami mats,
six hundred sections for one bomb,
a balloon that will float
over the ocean to the enemy.
The dormitory is unheated,
the factory an hour away by foot.
Work begins at dawn.
Given two rice balls and a white pill
at midnight, the nightshift must stand
to eat. The paste drips from their drying
boards and hardens on the floor; the girls
run between their two boards barefoot.
The weaker ones palm paste they call
devil’s tongue into their mouths.
Once on a Sunday her mother sent
sweet bean cakes with a neighbor.
The girl hid inside a closet to eat them.
Because she might not return,
she has folded a lock of her hair
and nail clippings inside a note
to her father and mother asking
their forgiveness for dying.
© by Pam Bernard
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