Tuesday, May 19, 2015

(for Na Na)

Now you mention it, that’s a memory:
so many times with father we returned
from gathering firewood in the dusk, yearned
for the glow of bush branch and temporary
warmth to bask in before bundled to bed.
And of course, mother needed good stove wood,
so father had found where a dead tree stood
miles away. Chopped those fallen boughs instead.
Bush driving at dusk with lights still dim,
the scuttle of a rabbit underwheel—
reminds us now of the times we could feel
safe in the old car in the care of him.
At dusk the world contracts to elemental things;
our children trusting in what simple comfort brings.

Glen Phillips
February, 2015

(Nana san ichi buta, or the ‘Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department’ of the Japanese Kwantang Army, occupying Helongjiang Province north China before and during World War II, was actually a place for testing chemical and germ warfare on live humans, mainly local Chinese. It is now a museum of horrors set up so that China and the world will never forget these atrocities—among the worst ever perpetuated by human beings on other human beings. To conceal its real purpose it was just known as Unit 731. No non-Japanese was allowed to leave it alive.)

My life led me to this latter day Gehenna,
in a manner of speaking, and now, despite
persistent funereal drumbeat of rain
on the umbrellas of the pilgrimage,
we walked steadfastly towards gas chamber
chimneys and concrete bunker relics
on those drear northern plains. Here, far from
my own beginning in red dust among salt lakes,
nearly eight decades have passed. Yet each step
destined, now I know, to advance me through 
through schoolrooms, stern halls of academia,
through steep valleys of Alps, past chill lakes
of sweet water and beside mounting forests;
or climbing tropic slopes to temple refuges.

Each step that once took me down into 
well-sandbagged wartime air-raid shelters
under blue skies of the Great South Land,
at night penciled with the searchlights
seeking Nippon’s reconnoitering planes,
spying for our secret munitions factories 
or bases for the US submarines. And up
again after the ‘all-clear’. Then, much later,
in step with my national service comrades,
I marched with my rifle toward firing ranges
to await apparition of distant raised targets.
Yes, every step so devilishly designed
to bring me to this drear day of light rain
of Pingfang District and dreaded Unit 731.

Glen Phillips
© October, 2014.