Jerome Rothenberg: 'The Hell of Smoke,' for the anniversary of the Hiroshima holocaust

[On the anniversary today of the Hiroshima holocaust I thought to post a poem of mine written some fifteen years after the event & later performed with the Japanese novelist Oda Makoto and composer Charlie Morrow under the auspices of the Bread & Puppet Theater.  The event, “Auschwitz/Hiroshima,” was a dirge for the murders by fire that marked our time and too many times before & after.  The Jigoku Zoshi is a Japanese scroll of hells that dates back to the twelfth century.]



the seventh hell: of smoke where fire-raisers try in vain to escape

                               from a shower of hot sand falling from a cloud

The houses of men are on fire

            Pity the dead in their graves

                        & the bones of the living

Pity the roof beams whose waters burn till they’re ash

Pity the old clouds devoured by the clouds of hot sand

& the sweat that’s drawn out of metals pity that too

Pity the teeth robbed of gold

            The bones when their skin falls away

Pity man’s cry when the sun is born in his cities

& the thunder breaks down his door

                        & pity the rain

For the rain falls on the deserts of man & is lost


If the mind is a house that has fallen

                        Where will the eye find rest

The images rises from the marrow & cry in the blood

Pity man’s voice in the smoke-filled days

            & his eyes in the darkness

Pity the sight of his eyes

                        For what can a man see in the darkness

What can he see but the children’s bones & the dead sticks

But the places between spaces & the places of sand

& the places of black teeth

                        The faraway places

The black sand carried & the black bones buried

The black veins hanging from the open skin

            & the blood changed to glass in the night


The eye of man is on fire

            A green bird cries from his house

& opens a red eye to death

The sun drops out of a pine tree

                        Brushing the earth with its wings

For what can a  man see in the morning

What can he see but the fire-raisers

            The shadow of the fire-raisers lost in the smoke

The shadow of the smoke where the hot sand is falling

The fire-raisers putting a torch to their arms

The green smoke ascending

                        Pity the children of man

Pity their bones when the skin falls away

Pity the skin devoured by fire

            The fire devoured by fire

The mind of man is on fire

            & where will his eye find rest