In observance of Armed Forces Day in June 2002, the Strategic Air and Space Museum located near Ashland, Nebraska, scheduled as their special guests Colonel Paul Tibbits and “Dutch” Van Kirk, the pilot and navigator, respectfully, of the Enola Gay, the B-29 Stratefortress propeller bomber that carried “Fat Man,” the plutonium-fused atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945. The night before their appearance I attended an Open Mike Poetry Evening held at a brand-name bookstore chain situated in neighboring Omaha. I wrote the following poem an hour before the reading began, completing it in time to present it before those assembled, to an enthusiastic reception. The next day I gave a copy to both men, never receiving a later response.

The poem as actually written follows the text below, providing a practical example of the tenets of composition spoken of in the essay, An Archeology of Meaning.

On Contemplating Hearing
Paul Tibbits and “Dutch” Van Kirk
Copyright 2002  richard chilton

richard chilton

Colonel Paul Tibbits, sir,
reporting for duty, sir,
a mile over Hiroshima
on that morning when
Less died than at Dresden or Tokyo,
but perished none the less in an instant
while the others at first anguished
over their burns, throughout the night.

Colonel Paul Tibbits, sir,
reporting for duty, sir,
we were only saving American lives
piled up the year before on the 
beaches of Omaha, Normandy, France
did it not matter that your orders
were different from all the rest
not through its totality, but execution?

Colonel Paul Tibbits, sir,
reporting for duty, sir,
it is said some saw the cylinder drop
before the flash blinded them forever
the greatest “forget me-not” the world has ever known
to occur again not three days hence
merely to test the plutonium “gadget.”

Colonel Paul Tibbits, sir,
reporting for duty, sir,
we brought the end of the war
he has said, in the 50 years since
and steadfast believes, and pontificates
as is his right, for he was only “following orders”
as Goring and Eichman also defended
their own actions of Holocaust.

Colonel Paul Tibbits, sir,
reporting for duty, sir, 
in the shadow of Stratcom 
and national missile defense,
you are not responsible
Even the hibakusha have
told you, through the press,
they knew you were only
reporting for duty, sir,
Colonel Paul Tibbits, sir
instrument of fire and eternity.

 

 


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