White Flash/Black Rain:
Women of Japan Relive the Bomb

First published in Woodnotes #26, Autumn 1995, pages 52–53. See “Outcry from the Inferno,” especially the postscript.

White Flash/Black Rain: Women of Japan Relive the Bomb, edited and translated by Lequita Vance-Watkins and Mariko Aratani. Milkweed Editions, 1995, 110 pages, paperback, 6 by 9 inches. $12.95 at bookstores. On August 6 this year, the world marked the 50th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. On this date in 1945, and in Nagasaki three days later, many thousands of people lost their lives in a blinding white flash, and many more suffered great personal injury and loss in the black rain that followed. This timely book is a collection of poems and prose by women in Japan who survived the bombing. It includes stories, prose reminiscences, longer poems, tanka, and haiku, all from the perspective of women—victims of the war while the men went off to fight. It is impossible for this book to be nonpolitical. Yes, the bomb’s horrors are well documented and indefensible. The book takes the polemical stance that the bombs should not have been dropped, that nuclear warfare is atrocious. But what about the other side of the argument? What about the atrocities of the imperialist Japanese during the war, and evidence showing that the bombings ended the war? These are vital issues, and the editors are necessarily sympathetic to the Japanese point of view. But the issue is not easily settled; nor do I wish to try. Rather, and quite aside from political leanings, I am moved—even stunned—by these poems. Just as John Hershey’s landmark 1946 book, Hiroshima, put faces on the tragedy of the bombing, White Flash/Black Rain lets these faces speak in their own prose and poetry. It is too difficult to pick a sample poem from this collection, but if you steel yourself and read this recommended but troubling book, you will learn and feel the searing pain of first-hand suffering. As the book’s back cover proclaims, the message of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is clear: “This must never happen again.”