A LETTER HOME, AFTER TRINITY: David Nicodemus, physicist

October 21, 2014

Dear Mami,

I am not the same who wrote

you yesterday. The storm has passed. The sun

beats fists against the canvas of my tent

and shakes dust in my eyes with every blow.

I saw a thing last night. I cannot say—

or having said, can’t send. You won’t know what

a while. But even were I there and free

to talk—I have no words. Or only words.

I don’t know what I saw. Frisch said, “A red

hot elephant upended on its trunk.”

The other fellows laughed.

My rhythm’s off.

I saw our village ashed, the men’s school burn

again, remembered how the gusting winds

spread pinwheel sparks. The great bass temple bell

on Mukoyama woke us. Cook helped pack

my wicker case. You wedged me in a second

sweater, hid us in the bamboo grove.

We watched while father fought the flames, filling

our honey buckets at the shallow well,

not fast enough. Smoke smudged his preacher’s skin

a devil dark—his face a Hannya mask—

as though some jealousy had conjured up

the flames that swallowed almost all he loved.


“Heathens,” he might have said, but never did.

He proffered a Trinity, but they preferred

the human godhead of a young marine

biologist. Warlike and practical

and proud, they always had too little faith

in higher powers. Even father’s aide,

old Murayama-san, socked all his cash

in dentures, buying gold teeth one by one.

Old samurai, he had the kids pretend

Hirose-gawa was a castle moat

and taught us how to swim with just our feet,

imaginary swords held overhead,

his leather shako leading and, bone-dry,

its draggled plume. But father thought he knew

God’s will. He spread the Word: “And he rebuked

the winds, and walked upon the waves dry-shod”—

that Christ might be a light to heal blind eyes.


I thought so, too, but planned on getting proof.

A pal and I spent all day laying cable,

sweating our sins away in blazing sun.

Come dusk, we found an empty base camp hut

and stowed our stuff before the storm began.

The roof was tight enough; the instruments

stayed mostly dry. But then brass bullied in.

We packed and grumbled till some G.I. perched

like a sacred lion on the next hut’s steps

shushed us: “The General needs his shut eye.” But

we couldn’t help the engine being cold.

We gunned it till the crankcase glowed, then beat

a tactical retreat to watch God’s will

from a hillside twenty clicks away.

Our friends

were there already, and we sat together

waiting in a deep obscurity

of darkness, like ghosts on a river’s brink,

shivering on the damp earth, fearing, longing

to hear the boatman’s cry.

And suddenly

there came a golden heat of sunlight down

and a purple and a royal light shining,

and I knew that God had blessed and damned us,

granting everything that we had wished.