Poem for the 65th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

(After an eyewitness account by Dr Tatsuichiro Akizuki)

At 10.30 the siren sounded,

at 11 o’clock the all-clear.

Sticking a needle into a patient,

I heard a drone

as the plane, lost in the cloud,

dropped her baby.


It fell silently

one and a half miles from its target.

It fell for 40 seconds,

and in that 40 seconds,

every move that people made

became a choice between life and death.



The buildings turned red.

Electricity poles bloomed like matches,

trees like torches.

Three kinds of colour,

black, yellow and scarlet,

loomed over the people,

who scattered like ants.

An ocean of fire

A sky of smoke.


Then the people started coming up the hill.

Naked, ash-white,

groaning from deep inside,

their faces like masks.

Behind these ghosts

walked corpses burned black.

Medicines, needles, and bandages burned,

as I walked on cancer, barefoot.


A mother and child, naked, drowned,

locked in each others arms, floated downstream,

still connected by the chord:

they were the lucky ones.

We saved many lives that day,

But then, one by one,

The people we had saved

Began dying.


The charred and wounded were gathered in flat carts

like fish to market.

Walking among the victims

of this mysterious plague,

I felt insensible, lifeless,

like a ghost myself.

A soldier passed the groups of dead and dying:

“Shame on you! You’re a doctor!

Why don’t you help them? Help them!”

“It is you that did this”, I replied.

(c) Ellen McAteer 2010

About Pedalling Poetry

Writer Ellen McAteer is founder of Tell It Slant poetry bookshop in Glasgow, General Manager at Poetry London magazine. She was a visiting lecturer at the Glasgow School of Art, and a mentee of the Clydebuilt Verse Apprenticeship Scheme, under Alexander Hutchison, and a singer with the band Stone Tape, as well as a solo singer who won a BBC Radio competition with her song Blue Valentine. She was Director of the Poetry Trust, which ran the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, a director of the Scottish Writers’ Centre, a visiting lecturer at Oxford University's MSt in creative writing, and a member of the core group of performers at the Hammer and Tongue spoken word collective in Oxford. She is a qualified Librarian.
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1 Response to Poem for the 65th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

  1. Lovely, Ellen, very sad. And to think that they considered dropping such bombs on North Korea in the 1950s, when they knew exactly what the effect would be.

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