January 31, 2024

What “Oppenheimer” Didn’t Show.

After seeing the recent movie “Oppenheimer,” I was inspired to write a poem about what the film, curiously, did not show.

The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—the culmination of Oppenheimer’s goal—were not included. Not one Japanese face was shown, nor shots of the immediate horrific devastation, nor the most massive human suffering the world has ever seen.

I wanted my poem to be a view, a personal view, into these omissions.

Tsutomu Yamaguchi, a man who lived to be a wise 93 years old, is my catalyst to create that view. In a sea of death, with wave after wave of the dying, he is the official sole survivor of both WWII bombings, three days apart.

After Oppenheimer realized the horrific potential of what he’d created, he regretted his role in history and joined other scientists as an anti-nuclear activist. Unfortunately, nuclear weapon proliferation continues to threaten the planet and future generations of those who did not see, hear, or feel what Mr. Yamaguchi did.



Mr. Yamaguchi is not stopping

at the kyoju tree

with others who gather

under its graceful arms

a veil of cool air sweet

with roses and


this August day on his

way to work

one last time before a train

takes him home

to rejoin wife and baby


all summer out of town

a young man’s daydreams

happy now, soaring

he glances skyward

over tree line

at an airplane

as something drops

a silent flash

brighter than sun

a most beautiful

silver lightning bolt (?)

makes daylight

seem dim, blinding

unbearable whiteness

his ears buzz, a sonic boom

deafening blast

he dives into a ditch

waves of intense heat

clouds like kinetic red

blooms in a bouquet

pale yellow stem

every thing is…what?

what is happening?

can’t hear

can’t see

can’t breathe

he can’t breathe

can’t breathe

everyone, everything blowing




inferno black with fuzzy

choking ash




Mr. Yamaguchi crawls out

to firestorms, fireballs

streets of shattered glass

trees, houses vanished

lifeless bodies…

others shrieking…

living dead…

some dying in front of him



in folds

they stagger

arms outstretched

faces contorted or gone

a sight

unspeakably, horridly


new to human eyes

that can still see

a collective wail of misery

new to human ears

that can still hear

he finds a crowded shelter

spends the sweltering

day and a night

burnt flesh, black rain

relentless thirst

no respite from agony

he leaves, must get to family

boards train to Nagasaki

(still running!)

Mr. Yamaguchi rests seated

the long ride home

people in shock, dazed

another passenger

a quiet, younger man

carries a covered bowl

holds it still and tight

on his lap

someone dares to ask

What is it?

the man begins to shake

he cannot contain himself


as he gently lifts the cover

“My wife’s bones. I am taking

her back to her parents.”

Mr. Yamaguchi cries

embracing his family

collapses in bed with fever

a night and a day

as Mrs. Yamaguchi bandages

his painful burns

he rises to return to his job

a marine engineer

in Nagasaki

though weak from

a strange sickness

where he tells his boss of

the horrors

but the boss does not believe

his stories

of any bombing

of Hiroshima

says Yamaguchi is faking

his injuries

to cover his missed

days of work

“No single bomb can destroy

an entire city!”

They argue and at that precise

moment they are hit

by a blast

another mushroom cloud looms

high over a city

yet again Mr. Yamaguchi



he escapes and journeys

on paths strewn with dead

and the dying

some, his friends

he runs home to find family

alive (a miracle!)

alive because they’d luckily

been in a tunnel when the

bomb exploded

gone to buy burn ointment

they are uninjured, it seems,

until years later

each suffers cancer

from radiation

but Mr. Yamaguchi

the engineer who writes


lives to be old and wise

Tsutomu Yamaguchi admits

he had considered

“honor killing”

himself and his family

but believes his destiny is to

leave a timeless

message for the world:

Nuclear bombs and people

cannot co-exist

Nuclear war is assault

on human dignity

Nuclear destruction is

never-ending atrocity




Are we humans de-horrified?

so hot with nuclear threat

or lost in denial

that we are deaf

to Yamaguchi’s lessons

to our self-annihilation?



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