One Day in Hiroshima (1996)
Peace Park. In the postwar trees
cicadas warm up like chainsaws.
The schoolchildren are out to catch them,
insect cages on their arms
like handbags. Red plastic, green plastic.
Crowding up to reach the noise.
Nothing is happening today.
Watches are reaching noon
on the wrists of lunchbreak men.
There is a sound of aeroplanes
and the small creak of lawn sprinklers.
Woods the horsemeat salesman
dozes on an iron bench, nylon legs splayed apart.
His slip-on shoes are getting wet.
Sun ticks off the grass as steam,
smoke, the smell of minerals.
He dreams of spring. Teeming rain.
Across the road in the petrol station
borders of hydrangea
bruise against the air, their fists
delicate as litmus paper.
Testing subsoil and heat
for acid and its violence.
River town. Ghettos of mud
run out to the sea-roads
between the park of cenotaphs,
the statue to dead high-school girls,
the street of love-hotels. Night brings out
their addiction to the light.
Knuckles raw as pickled plums,
Mister Fatboy pours us out
cold rice wine. We have the same job.
We make money. That’s our job.
The barclock in the Gourmet Globe
has stopped. I’m dying for a drink
again. I watch the late-shift cook
skin spring chicken like a glove.
Tomorrow is Day of the Dead, when
all her ancestors ride home
on the curved backs of eggplants.
She hears them now, their insistence
rattling the storm windows.
She washes up, watching the street
for fast cars. Gullwings, tailfins.
Brakelights shimmy along the tram tracks,
asphalt radiating heat
and the lost dog-feet of litter
skittering up Peace Street.
Down by the docks, where the jetsam is,
the summer fireworks begin before we can get through the crowd.
The dark is fused with a smell like zinc;
beer cans and fried octopus. Office men with redmeat faces
splay under the gingko trees,
waiting for the festival.
All along the waterfront, lights in water like barcodes.
The child running through the crowd in summer gown and Adidas
is overhung with fireworks.
She cranes, head back, to watch their fall,
their drift. Spectacles of smoke
flashlit, huge in the mid-dark.
Closing-time. Through my shoes
the road is still warm, and the air
against my eyes and teeth is dry
with gunpowder and river dust.
Up near the Peace Dome’s fairground skeleton,
someone is shouting at someone.
I can’t understand what. Mister Fatboy
starts to cry. I help him home,
streets emptied out
with the smell of ozone
and the sepia of streetlights in each dark room.
Tobias Hill was born in London
in 1970. He is author of the collections of verse Year
of the Dog (National Poetry Foundation, 1995), Midnight
in the City of Clocks (Oxford UP, 1996), Zoo
(Oxford UP, 1997), Nocturne
in Chrome and Sunset Yellow (Salt, 2006), Poems
(Carcanet, 2006), the short-story collection Skin
(Faber, 1997, winner of the PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen Award for fiction),
and the novels Underground
(Faber, 1999), The
Love of Stones (Faber/ Picador, 2001), and The
Cryptographer (Faber, 2003). ‘One Day in Hiroshima’
appeared in Midnight in the City of Clocks and is © Tobias
Hill. Tobias Hill lives in London and is Royal Society of Literature Fellow
at Sussex University. For further information
Tobias Hill page at contemporarywriters.com.