Poetry / October 2017 (Issue 37)


In Omiya

by Phyllis Wax

From the time they invaded Northeast
China in 1931 and the rest of China in
1937, throughout World War II, Japanese
troops massacred civilians, tortured
captives and raped young girls almost
everywhere they went...
...they collectively killed 20 million
or 30 million people.


The New York Times, January 22, 1997


In Omiya in the hills southwest of Tokyo
young men did not volunteer
in the '30s when Japan invaded China.

Well known were the stories
of officers slapping, punching,
beating with belts until blood poured
from the faces of recruits.

As boys in elementary school
they drilled with wooden guns.
The greatest honor, they were taught,
to return
dead.

Shinzaburo,
just eighteen when sent to China,
just a boy
from a small farm town.

Today
honorable elder
Shinzaburo Horie cringes
when he sees an infant.
slight noise in bushes
baby on my bayonet
dying mother screams

Another time
starved soldiers
butchered, ate,
sold to a merchant
from whom Shinzaburo bought.
belly near backbone
fresh flesh in open market
tender teenage boy

Only once,
not much meat,
he hadn’t known.

Even now memories
squat on his tongue.

Never told wife
or son or grandson. Nothing
to be proud of
says gentle Shinzaburo,
back erect, hands awkward and trembling
like the grayish leaves on the olive tree,
not a thing to talk about.

In Omiya in the hills southwest of Tokyo
the elders, deeply respected,
are courteous, honest men.

They do not volunteer
to tell what happened
when Japan invaded China.

No one asks.
 
 
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