We Kept Our Shadow

by Christina McDaniel

August 1965

Two hibakusha—
            my husband and I

prepare for
            night. He slams the shutters

upon the ghostly
            cherry blossoms along

the stone walls
            where I see the shadows

of three classmates
            in uniform, matching haircuts,

and the smallest
            one points to the parachute

that shattered
            gravity. My husband

has learned
            to keep out the wind

the ash-purple
            Nagasaki dusk. He cannot

close out memory.
            I press myself into

my straw mat,
            gazing up at the prayer

scroll, the pieta
            bottled in gold,

that hangs
            above our whys.

I tighten my
            Kimono around myself

as my husband
            dips his hand

in iodine,
            a snake-wine maker

in his wooden
            shed where we met

one year after
            as he curled an adder,

slit throat,
            skin half off,

into the bottle of
            fermented liquor.

The snake went on
            writhing, snapped his body

against the glass.
            I hid in the penumbra

of the rafters,
            sixteen-year old leper

in a yellow Kimono
            too bright for Hell,

my head downturned,
            a few strands of hair

like brushstrokes
            on a prayer scroll.

The elfin man turned
            his tear-filled eyes to me,

You there too?
            he said. I asked him

if snake wine
            erased memory.

Twenty Augusts past,
            I let my kimono slide

off like skin and turn
            my back to him,

the mountainous
            burns across my spine

with shadows of
            their own. When he applies

the iodine, it feels like
            the tears of the one-eyed

mother nursing
            her limp toddler,

her lips
            frozen around

her first word.
            Skimming his hand

across our history,
            my husband talks

of the time
            our son discovered

his shadow. He lifted
            his arms in prayer to see

if it would follow,
            turned around fifty

times and asked us if
            he could capture it in a bottle.



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