August 6

-- in memory of Daniel Ellsberg and of awitnessing at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory

Seventy-eight years ago today
The United States of America
Dropped an atomic bomb
On Hiroshima, Japan,
Flattening that thriving city
With no industry to speak of
And killing 85,000 people
In a single instant.

Seventy-eight years ago today
I was an infant
Approaching my second birthday.
My father was a lieutenant
In the Army Air Corps
Whose job it was
To instruct cadet bombardiers
In the fine art
Of using the Norden bombsight
For precision placement of bombs
Dropped from U.S. B-17s and B-29s
Onto the enemy below.
Was someone my father taught
On board the Enola Gay
On the morning of August 6, 1945?

The enemies below were often civilians
Engaged in the daily comings and goings
Of family and community life.
On August 6, 1945
The enemies below
Were just waking up
To start another day
Of work and school,
Of cleaning their homes
And preparing food.
The enemies below
Expected nothing unusual
On the morning of August 6, 1945.

Then the flash
Then the concussion
Then the deafening roar.
Then the instantaneous incineration
Of 85,000 civilians,
The instantaneous obliteration
Of an entire city
Going about its daily business
Just as people in Minneapolis,
Omaha, San Diego, Albany,
Atlanta, Portland, Des Moines,
Were going about their daily business.
Three days later,
On August 9, 1945,
For good measure and to prove
We meant business,
The U.S. dropped another atomic bomb,
This time on the city of Nagasaki,
Killing another 74,000 civilians instantly.
Flattening another city in a heartbeat.

As we speak of this
Our sentences lose cohesion
And come apart,
Our words drift away from each other,
Letters scatter everywhere
And fall helplessly to earth,
Stunned and stupefied
Meaning picks its way
Through radioactive rubble
With skinless hands,
No longer able to see or hear,
Able no longer
To imagine the world.

Buff Whitman-Bradley’s newest book is And What Will We Sing? a collection of protest and social justice poems spanning the last 25 years. He podcasts at and lives with his wife, Cynthia, in northern California. Read other articles by Buff.