Poetics of Hiroshima: Deconstructing the Dispossessed
The Poetry of War
Dispossessed was the third poem in Michael Dante’s Hiroshima series based from testimonies recorded in the 1980’s. Dr Sawachika treated over two thousand badly burned patients transferred from the city of Hiroshima after the devastating Atom Bomb attack. The poem tells the real life story of a patient who was critically burnt in the aftermath of the explosion. The heavily pregnant woman begged to be cut open to save the child’s life. The doctor made an excuse and promised to return to help her. When he came back to her bedside, she had died.
To this day Dr. Sawachika’s patient remains nameless.
Formal technique & Refrain Structure
The poem was written in the from of a modified villanelle. In the forth stanza, the author paraphrases the second refrain, instead of repeating the first. In the third line of the final stanza, he misses out the first refrain so as to close the narrative loop. The final refrain on the last line of the sixth stanza was a mutilated form of the second refrain used in the first stanza - thus the author kept the initial image of the child but negated it by the insertion of the word ‘nothing’ - thus ‘nothing moved inside.’ This final line distorts the refrain pushing it to its limit. Therefore, the poem ends in the viewpoint in which it started, and finishes on a disastrous turning point.
Even though Dr Sawchika narrates the illuminelle, the poem switches between his voice and that of his patient. This switching of voices provides an interesting dramatic tension. Thus the author balances the clinical detachment of the doctor, contrasting it with the emotional intensity of the dying woman. The poem is both disturbing and realistic.
The rhyme scheme through all the six stanzas AB, with the appropriate adjustments for the final stanza to suit form.
The first stanza introduces the dying patient. In the second line, she begs for help and says:
I’m dying please help my baby to live.’
The reader is drawn in quickly by the urgency of the situation – the intensity of the first person voice works extremely well for this purpose.
Second stanza introduces the doctor’s prognosis and rudimentary treatment.
The third stanza mixes viewpoints. The first and second lines of this stanza, establishes the doctor’s clinical observation, thus:
Black flowers were tattooed onto her skin— petrified
her kimono had turned her body into an exposed negative.
These type of burns were common due to the heat rays being absorbed into the dark patterns on peoples clothes. The final line of this stanza breaks into the refrain, which is told from the girl’s viewpoint (though narrated by Dr. Sawachika):
she cried, ‘I can feel my baby moving inside'
The fourth stanza deals almost exclusively with the girl’s viewpoint and highlights the urgency of the situation. The girl desperately pleads for help— the dialogue is selfless, which makes it even more harrowing. It is now clear she is prepared to sacrifice herself for her baby.
The fifth stanza is from the doctor’s viewpoint; he attempts to offer his patient some consolation. He says in second and third lines of the fifth stanza:
‘This child is destined to live
I too can feel him moving inside.’
The sixth stanza wraps the narrative up. The doctor returns to the girl’s bedside in line one, only to find that she has passed away in line three of that stanza.
The poem ends on the very disturbing line:
I caressed her belly and once again, nothing moved inside.
We are left to wonder whether the doctor lied to the dying patient when he said:
‘This child is destined to live
I know I can feel him moving inside’
(stanza 5, lines 2 & 3)
or whether his emotional response had died, or even, perhaps both. This is left for the reader to decide. Tragically sometimes ambiguity is the best form of realism.
By the ending of the poem, the situation remains unresolved in the viewpoint’s mind. The doctor’s treatment is unfinished and his relationship with mother and child is terminated by the mother’s sudden death. For a second or two after the poem finishes the reader is left lingering by the bedside, trying to correct the uncorrectable.
The Dispossessed: Under the R-ray
The ‘dispossessed’ in the poem are the destitute patients dying in a makeshift hospital, which has now become a refugee camp. In the title, the word ‘possessed’ is prefixed by the negative morpheme ‘dis’. Thus the ‘dispossessed’ signify those killed in the atomic slaughterhouse of Hiroshima. Referenced within the title is the unnamed ghost of the unborn child – his life-force, now made homeless in his mother’s womb by her violent departure. Thus the spirit vacates his mother’s womb because she too has dispossessed the ruin, which is her own body. Both mother and unborn child are refugees – the first is evicted from the city of Hiroshima – the second from a city of flesh. Both are separated from the other by death and yet each is united in spirit – embraced in the loving heart of their doctor.