Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics (Hiroshima-Nagasaki Feature—Issue 56, August 2015)

Daniel Borzutzky
On Raúl Zurita’s “Little Boy”

“Little Boy” is published in The Country of Planks, a book I translated and edited and which was published in January 2015 by Action Books. The selections in The Country of Planks are from a 700-page anthology called Zurita, published in Chile in 2011.

Hiroshima is a place, a theme, an idea, an image, that occurs throughout The Country of Planks.

One piece, entitled “My God Does Not Love/My God Does Not Wake Up/My God Does Not See” (and which recontextualizes the lines from “La Vida Nueva” that Zurita wrote with an airplane above New York City in 1982, each of which started with “My God”....) begins with an image of a prison on a beach which is in Pinochet’s Chile, and which simultaneously converges with Hiroshima and Nagasaki:

Crossing the foamy ocean  the splitting breakers bursting

over the peaks of the Andes   It’s the Strait of Magellan says

Magellan as he steers between the sunken islands of the

cordilleras   These are the new caravels of the Pacific we

reply watching the plains of Nagasaki and Hiroshima pass

before the Chilean sky   filled with dust drifting like

two days shattered to pieces coming closer between the fjords.

In a recent interview published at Harriet I asked Raúl to comment on this:

DB:Returning to the idea that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and their aftermaths are happening at the same time and in the same space as the Chilean dictatorship, it seems to me that inside of this there is an argument: that human atrocities cannot be separated.

RZ:I have the sense that any victim of violence, of war, of torture, of bombings is a failure for all of humanity. If you are being tortured, or if you are being killed, it can be in the United States, it can be in Vietnam, that situation is a disaster for all of humanity. Thus this great disaster is transformed in a quotidian manner….The apocalypse is not when the world ends, it’s when one single person is killed, when one person is tortured, in reality it’s the entire universe that becomes deformed. I think those things are present in there…a tortured Chilean or Argentine, or a child being killed by napalm in Vietnam, or someone trying to escape from the Twin Towers, or someone in a concentration camp, it’s the same thing; it’s the same terror; and it’s reiterated and reiterated and reiterated as if it never stops happening. I think that poetry and art have to narrate those things, to speak them, and at the same time, to believe that they might be able to exorcise them…

“The apocalypse,” says Zurita “is not when the world ends, it’s when one single person is tortured, in reality it’s the entire universe that becomes deformed.”

And this perhaps allows us one way to think about Zurita’s focus on the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: he imagines them through the perspectives of a variety of individual experiences. The section begins with an imagined scene in the life of Paul Warfield Tibbets Jr, the pilot of the Enola Gay, who was born in Quincey, Illinois on February, 23, 1915, and wakes up one morning to find himself transported through time and space to Los Españoles, a residential street in Santiago, Chile.

Little Boy continues to shift through time and place and soon it seems that the bomb has been dropped on Santiago, leveling everything, causing the city to fill with thousands of burnt up refugees. And when the scene shifts to Hiroshima itself, the biography of the narrator, perhaps Zurita’s, is communicated through the memory of a young Japanese girl. The Chilean narrator is the young Japanese girl or the young Japanese girl is the Chilean narrator: a crossing of continents, time periods, genders; a hybrid body experiencing multiple historical and geographical moments at once: Hiroshima passing before the Chilean sky or Chile inserted into the heart of Hiroshima.

And elsewhere in The Country of Planks, we have Japanese boys in 1973, imprisoned on a ship off a Chilean coast whose cliffs are covered in portraits of the dictator, General Augusto Pinochet.

In Zurita’s vision, then, historical atrocities cannot be separated. We have, on one level, an intense specificity: this is clearly Chile in the throws of its horrific dictatorship, which killed and tortured and disappeared thousands of innocent Chileans. And on another level we have the bombings of Hiroshima, a defining moment in world history, in the 20th century, in modernity, and which was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

This trans-Pacific convergence of Chile and Japan can perhaps be read through Zurita’s statement in the interview that the apocalypse is the murder and torture of one single individual. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, then, are not one single apocalypse but rather they are 255,000. Or they are uncountable as they occur over and over again.