Post-War Childhoods

For Takeshi Kusafuka

If there were no affliction in this world we might think we were in paradise.

Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace

You, born in Tokyo
In nineteen forty-four,
Knew the simplicity
Occasioned by a war.
In London it was so
Even in victory –
In defeat, how much more.

Knew it I say – and yet,
Born to it, you and I,
How could we in truth have known?
It was the world. You try
To make articulate,
In language not your own,
What it was like and why.

Nature returned (you say)
To downtown Tokyo –
In your voice, some irony
Defending your need to go
That far: what other way
Of like economy
Is there of saying so?

Your images declare
The substance of the phrase:
Bomb craters, urban grass,
A slowworm flexing the gaze
Of the boy crouching there;
Moths, splayed on the glass,
Like hands lifted in praise.

A future might have drawn
On what such things could tell.
You heard, even as you woke,
Accustomed birdsong fill
The unpolluted dawn,
Heard a toad blurt and croak
In some abandoned well.

They call it desolation,
The bare but fertile plot
You have been speaking of.
You grew there, who have taught
Me much of the relation
Affliction bears to love
In Simone Weil’s scoured thought.

I, too, have images.
A photograph: St Paul’s,
The dome a helmeted head
Uplifted, as terror falls.
The place I knew, not this
But a city back from the dead,
Grew fireweed within walls.

I played over dead bombs
In suburban villas, a wrecked
Street of them where, run wild,
Fat rhododendrons cracked
The floors of derelict rooms:
It seemed to a small child
An Eden of neglect.

If we two share a desire,
It is not that either place,
Still less the time, should return.
If gravity and grace
Survive a world on fire
Fixed in the mind, they burn
For things to be in peace.


Unanswering voice,
Lady or Lord:
I have no choice
But to attend
Your silent word.

I think again
Of the first poet
Of our tongue:
The sweet, profane
Of plucked string
And exploit sung.

At your command
He sang creation.

He had withdrawn
To where
His silence was:
Where cattle stand
And, sleeping, moan,
Stamp, grumble, snort.

As in high places dawn
Will spring
Sudden from stone,
So from the dung
And bed-straw rose
His made thought.

Angel or Muse,
Because I do
Not hear your voice
Yet cannot choose
But speak, I pray

Let my words be
Such that they grow
From my silence
Answering you,
As they
Must answer me.

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