your great-grandmother survived hiroshima. think you got problems?

"to survive--it's such a dangerous thing"--Eugenia Leigh

My great-grandmother Kunie was a survivor of Hiroshima: a truth handed down through my mother's  generations as matter-of-factly as the good tea set. I never deeply considered nor fully absorbed this truth--that is, never felt it in my heart, my bones--until I took my first writing workshop in college. I turned in a poem containing the image of my mother as a month-old fetus in the womb of her mother, Kiyoko. I described how during the morning of the bombing, pregnant Kiyoko was at home in Otake, a town about 20 miles from Hiroshima. My brief poem evoked a universe creating my mother at the same moment when a bomb destroys the old world. I hardly knew what I had written.
Kiyoko, who lives with her husband and parents, is safe at home, while her mother Kunie is walking toward Hiroshima. Kiyoko could easily have been Kunie. My mother-as-fetus could have been within three miles of the bomb’s epicenter. By chance she was not.
     To explain: in the days before August 6, 1945, the Japanese government called for volunteers in Hiroshima prefecture. There are maybe quotation marks around “volunteers.” Someone—say, a low-level clerk with hunched shoulders and bloodshot eyes--handed out postcards door to door. These notices asked each household to send at least one person into Hiroshima to tear down structures that were potential targets for Americans. 
     What kind of structures? I've yet to ask my mother. Schools? Temples? Government buildings? So many questions behind each word she's told me.
   Kiyoko's husband reads the postcard and shouts something in a fury: my father-in-law is dead! What else do they want? This family will not sacrifice anything more!  He slams his fist into the wall, he rips the card in half. Later, when no one's watching, Kunie pastes the torn halves together, using a smear of soft rice for glue. Someone must go, she reasons. Maybe Kiyoko--but she is pregnant. Maybe her son-in-law--but he is stubborn.
    On the morning of the bomb, Kunie, not Kiyoko, is riding a train to Hiroshima, along with other volunteers. Suddenly, an air raid siren slashes the air like a scream or the color silver streaking through the sky. The brakes squeal and stop the train with a gasp. The conductor orders everyone off.
    Kunie steps out onto the grass and walks through an open field. She walks toward Hiroshima, because that is where she is going. Why would she walk in any other direction? She walks into a morning of blue sky, a blue-sky morning, the kind of morning that begins any day of disaster.
    When the Wright brothers dreamed, did they dream of such a clear, crisp blue?
    On the frontier of science, everything touches everything. Smoke and vapor are time-travelers. Dust and ash leave trails for you to follow: along them you can walk backward half a century, walk forward, where everything touches everything, like love can, or an x-ray. What does the future look like? It glows in the dark.