• Cassandra Atherton and Paul Hetherington



‘The giant purple mushroom … had already risen to a height of 45,000 feet, 3 miles above our own altitude, and was still boiling upward like something terribly alive. Even more fearsome was the sight on the ground below. Fires were springing up everywhere amid a turbulent mass of smoke that had the appearance of bubbling hot tar … If Dante had been with us on the plane, he would have been terrified. The city we had seen so clearly in the sunlight a few minutes before was now an ugly smudge. It had completely disappeared under this awful blanket of smoke and fire.’[i]


A modern nation that shares the characteristics of many nations in the early 21st century: rapid economic development; built-up, affluent urban areas and a destruction of older areas of its cities, including dwellings and markets; an eclectic mix of people with a range of religious affiliations; and an active campaign in the so-called ‘war on terror’—employing various public and covert police methods.

1. Pika (flash)



Darkness grasps a row
of ancient pines and oaks
as in a closing grip.
Traffic swings across
a busy intersection;
horns begin a noise
like trumpeting elephants.
The district is abuzz –
bars are crammed and clubs
show turning, strobing lights,
their bouncers tanned, robust.

2. Don (boom)



Andrew and the City

Gambling rooms do trade
beneath the government’s gaze –
officially they’re banned
except for the casino
huge, high rise and silver,
glaring into night
with windows like the eyes
of praying mantis. Dark
is anathema to a place
that, like the well-worn proverb,
never sleeps, where high
rollers test the bank
and money is the basis
of every exchange.
Outside Andrew pauses –
a tall, athletic man,
by trade an appliance mechanic.
A wad of money rustles
beneath his counting fingers.
He enters the casino
sits at a roulette wheel,
placing careful bets
while a camera surveys
the conduct of the game.
He wins two thousand dollars,
then a thousand more.
‘He’s back again,’ observes
a man from security –
‘find out what you can.’
Later Andrew walks
to a nightclub where
city lights don’t follow,
enters and climbs stairs
to a quiet bar,
orders beer, then whisky.
Performers in high heels
and black fishnet stockings
dance across a stage,
mime a camped-up song
about close assignations.
Andrew sits and drinks
until, at three a.m.,
he makes his watchful way
back to a tidy house
where his wife snores lightly.
He stashes in a safe
his gathered winnings, sleeps.
Next morning he walks to church,
sits quietly in a service
that preaches humility
to a congregation
of tradesmen, factory workers
and some unemployed;
nods towards the priest,
leaves without revealing
his close, burning belief
in the destructive God
from the Book of Revelation;
his conviction that the world
is close to Armageddon.

3. There must never be a word for it; to give it a name means it could happen again.




Police are in their eyrie
surveying all the scene.
Bugs they neatly planted
have crackled into life;
gang members are traced
back to bars and homes.
Nothing else transpires
even as a warehouse
fills with new equipment
and the makings of explosive;
even as four men
search for a way inside
a public service building.
Andrew is ringleader –
he undertakes repairs
in factories and offices
of broken, clogged machines –
washers, air-conditioners,
pumps or fuming stoves.
Another’s a public servant
who keeps mainly to himself;
a third delivers post
on a noisy moped;
the last is self-employed
in small, domestic jobs –
fixing gutters, taking
prunings to the tip.


Andrew was a boxer
grew up in poverty
and has ‘a score to settle’:

‘All the world’, he says
‘is rich exploiting poor
and rampant lies and dark
hypocrisy and greed
masked as principles
that are a washing fog
to hide venality.
I will destroy
the State’s central body
from where instructions move
to suffocate our freedom
and if I’m caught my life
will be a martyrdom
of one who fought for justice.’

His work associates
don’t suspect his plan,
yet they are also watched
as observation ripens.

4. A new vocabulary related specifically to the experience of the atomic bomb is developed.



The Clean-swept Floor

A police sting named ‘Clean Sweep’
begins as bomb-proof vans
and men in dark flak-jackets
surround a warehouse where
a group of six have gathered.
They move with practised speed,
take up positions, aim.
Someone shouts; inside
people start to scatter;
the short and muted cracking
of shots begins, like rain
on a reverberant roof
to signal summer’s over.
Someone falls and blood
stains the clean-swept floor
where guns are stacked in crates,
and silver machinery
winks; where a swinging globe
pendulums in space.
The fire fight is short –
four helpers die, and two
of the gang are captured.
There’s a bench with drugs
lined up in rows, and tubes
like a schoolboy’s mess,
a plan drawn on a board.
The dead are straightened from
twisted, ungainly postures,
zipped in body bags.
The city appears to blink
a hundred times a second
with rainbow advertisements
on lifted screens; the arc
of a Ferris Wheel rides high
at a nearby showground
spinning like stupefaction.
The warehouse floor is scrubbed,
its doors are closed and locked.


A house is quickly circled
by flak-jackets and snipers.
Its door is broken, men
run in with sweeping guns.
Andrew’s wife wakes up
to find herself surrounded
among a scrum of orders,
but he isn’t there.
His wife is bundled quickly
away from where she lies.
while other men begin
to search the house, pull up
the floorboards, break the walls.

5. Hibakusha (atomic bomb survivor)




The city’s raucous life;
its streaming, human rush,
carries a dark car
from a central lot
across quieter suburbs
to halt next to a verge.
The men who step discreetly
from its blue interior
knock at number five,
introduce themselves,
allow the occupants
two minutes to find clothes.



They showed warrants, demanded we go
to a place without a name
to ‘assist’ the State – or words of that kind,
while fingering guns – ‘bring pyjamas, a toothbrush’ –
allowed minutes to dress, guided us
to their car – ‘Don’t speak; do not move’ –
took us away from our simpleton’s dream
to a cold reception, handed us
to guards who quizzed, searched and dressed us,
squirreling makeup, a handkerchief, money,
next to rooms of hemmed-in air.

6.  ‘The atomic landscape does not allow me to rest.’[ii]



News Broadcast

The government has announced the arrest of four suspected terrorists – three men and a woman. A government spokesman said that the three men were alleged to be the members of a terrorist cell that aimed to explode a bomb in the vicinity of an important government building. Their arrest had been the result of nearly a year of painstaking surveillance and counter-terrorism activity.

At present, there are few details about the activities of this group. A cache of weapons and the raw material for explosives, along with equipment for the manufacture of drugs, has been discovered. There are also detailed plans of a building. The spokesman said that further information about the activities of this group, which is being dubbed ‘the gang of four’, would be released shortly.

The other suspect was said to be an associate of those in the main terrorist cell ...

7. Black Rain




Operation ‘Searchlight’
probes the mechanic’s haunts –
a bar where no-one’s seen
his face for seven nights
but where slim dancers are
always on the look-out;
the Casino’s polished floor
where regular gamblers speak
of a sullen, private man
who never talked, but won
consistently, and carried
fruit bars in his pocket
to feed each winning streak;
a lock-up with false wall
hiding a thousand tabs
of toxic Ecstasy –
crowds were due to dance
their way to sudden death
some buoyant evening.
A police chief shakes his head –
‘I hope we’ll catch him soon
and string him as quickly.’
There’s also a Sushi Bar
that the police observe –
‘No, he’s not been back
for more than seven weeks’,
the owner soon confides,
‘although he used to eat
a meal here every week.’
Operation Searchlight
finds nothing else – the airports
record no passenger
who matches his description;
railways are watched
but he doesn’t catch a train.
The chief inquisitor
writes a short, terse memo
to a colleague, saying

‘The others in our prison
are pawns of this one man –
except, that is, the postman,
who’s mad in his own way.
Find the culprit soon
or our efforts may be wasted’.

8. The nuclear sublime is a critical term that was first used by Frances Ferguson in 1984 where she identifies a clause in a State Farm insurance policy that says all disasters are insured against except for nuclear peril because of its annihilation of the world and all life forms. Ferguson argues, ‘the nuclear sublime operates much like other versions of the sublime, in that it imagines freedom to be threatened by a power that is consistently mislocated’.[iii]




Two policemen on patrol
find a dishevelled man
sitting near the warmth
of a burning drum –
a lone and drowsy vagrant.
They approach to offer counsel
about the nearest shelter.
‘Of course’, he says, ‘I’ll go there
as soon as evening falls.
Sit and have a drink.’
He offers a dirty bottle
that smells of cheap white wine
which they refuse. ‘You know,
yesterday a man
came and sat with me
to warm his hands. I asked
what he called himself.’
He laughed and took a swig.
‘His name was not a name.
I can’t remember what …’
The policemen nod politely.
‘No, it’s quite important.’
The vagrant stood and stared
as if into the distance:
‘His name was the mechanic.’
The policemen start, one reaches
to radio a message
then sees a small gun pointed
at his uniform –
‘You will die together’.
The mechanic leaves the scene
after sending a message
to the central station –
‘Your men are dead, this city
festers in corruption.’


a) ‘…the idea of appropriation implies taking possession of something, taking something for one’s own use.’[iv]



b) ‘Oppressive silence demands speech; forgetfulness must be warded off by remembrance…’[v]





Anna is found unconscious
in her holding cell
and quickly taken to
a secure hospital
where a stomach pump
voids her of fifty pills.
Guards make notes of how
she raves and babbles, saying
that tenderness is worth
not a jot of value;
that goodness has no force;
that individuals are
mere junk within the city
like any kind of refuse.
She swoons into a sleep,
is forced awake again
as an investigator
inquires how she obtained
a lethal dose of drugs –
finds that another prisoner
made a quick transaction
with her in a yard,
orders her secured
in careful isolation:

‘Don’t let her be exposed
to anyone. She’s worth
far too much to us –
may even be the crux
of this whole case, sending
the revolting gang of four
to their swift perdition.’

10. In the charcoal aftermath, the Hiroden girls set their lands in order. Fisher Kings of the East, they survey their spectral landscape, a panorama of blasted earth and sterility. Scorched plains where the iron ribs of streetcars settle into debris, they have said no trees or grass will grow for seventy years. Derailed by the shock, some Hiroden are filled with whitened, swollen corpses. A hallmark of Beckettian mimesis, their poured-out lives gather dust.


Hiroshima’s resurrection begins just hours after it is obliterated. While the ashes are still hot, their duty is to get the trams moving again. The city looks like a desert; the tram bell is the sound of hope.









Someone rings the police
from a stolen phone:
‘The mechanic’s in a house
on Yallourn Street. The place
with yellow letterbox
that’s been run-down for years.’
It’s almost four a.m.
when everyone’s in position
and searchlights are pointed
towards a white front door –
though yet to be switched on.
Marksmen are positioned
on a rise behind,
and in a neighbour’s garden,
their sights exploring every
window of the place.
Then the order’s given –
‘go’ – the buttressed door
is knocked down, and policemen
rush in like a tide
to swamp this single man.
But he’s hidden in a loft
and, woken up, begins
to shoot at every noise
until the police back off.
Then there’s the slow unfolding
of a domestic siege –
negotiators talk;
marksmen settle in;
senior officers
at police headquarters
discuss what might be offered.
The mechanic will not answer
the police loud hailer, waits
to see what will transpire,
praying that his cause
will find its moment, strapping
another bandage on
his injured arm. The pain
nearly makes him faint.
He puts down his gun
to pull the bandage tighter.

11. Red canna flowers are the first to bloom in the charred rubble. Then tiny twigs and leaves emerge from the blackened scars on survivor trees; broken and charred they start to put out sturdy new boughs.



Lately there’s been no shooting
at 23 Yallourn Street
but the police are slow and cautious
in dismantling the large deadlock
on a small side door.
They enter one by one
wearing body armour,
nosing ahead with guns
that sniff the night like stoats,
that point the ways towards
the next room and the stairs
climbing towards the hideout,
their breathing in suspension,
their nerves like heated wires,
their imaginations playing
with an anxiety
that this run-down house
is larded with explosives.
But nothing stirs; old boards
creak under foot and seem
to suffer a subsidence
as the men creep slowly
towards what could be doom;
as a cat miaows
and rubs itself against them;
as an owl outside
hoots, and flies away.
The carpet on the stairs
is like a kind of quicksand –
one officer treads slowly
and finds the attic door
has been left ajar.
A long slumped-over shape
is in a chair, they run
forward, shouting, shining
lights to see a man
unconscious, with a pistol
on his lap, a bandaged
arm that’s badly bleeding,
a bowl of disinfectant
and an unpleasant smell
of small-roomed confinement.

12.  The house is a little shack erected with planks in the midst of rubble. They live in humble dwellings; a few boards, with sheet of tin for walls and a roof. Humans destroyed Hiroshima, but humans help rebuild it.



Perhaps She’s Innocent

Perhaps she’s innocent. I ponder this
when sleep’s deserted me and ticking minutes
bulge and hang – monstrous drops
of water, or of time. They weigh and run,
smearing my sense of who I am – of what
I am doing in pursuing justice
against the agents of this age’s terror –
not the vile and the plainly guilty
but hangers-on; those who have been trapped
by insouciance or accident; who have
stumbled into a frame of guilt. We target
these because they give good information
and sometimes take the path to condemnation
as if it were a walk in glorious spring
when copious blossoms shower pink and white.
We goad them; they return us what we want;
we tickle them with words and they light up
with essays full of detail and belief,
enough to fill a book.
                                                She has grace;
there is something true that seems to hover
near to her. She lacks guile, yet is
intelligent and sensitive –not gross
but subtly sensuous and finely charged.
But we must show her clearly, loudly guilty
and demonstrate her foolishness, in order
to finally snuff out the hateful danger
of those who have conspired to bring us down.

13. Three hundred yards from ground zero, a baseball field overwrites a killing field.























I’ve chased the past through its haunted house
to see what came before; what made me up.
Lovely moments, now unmoored, moved past –
I jumped to hold them tight but, like balloons,
they slowly floated off. I recall
touch – a cousin’s friend – when he and I
were sixteen: innocent, we lay in grass and held
our strange, stiff bodies, as if all intimacy
was bound in that one gesture. How extreme
the young are; how absorbed in all they do
as if the world’s a tiny place that only
they can pleasure in – staring at a sky
that’s barred by boughs. He cried to go away,
but didn’t write. I kept the memory
like something pressed between my seeking fingers.
But weeks, hours and minutes are confused,
days have forgotten time, losing shape;
long and short are tumbled to a blur.
Everything I do is governed by
the brief electric switch of light with dark,
unreferencing the world, undoing all
clarity, so even a memory
of diving in a river when a robust
six years old seems perverse and false –
a mental film of someone else’s play
that’s not been properly spooled. I shook the water
from my thrilling body – that may be true –
but now my body’s lost the skin-sensation
which prickled and excited. Thought descends
to isolate and drown self-belief,
clinging like a swimmer to frail flotsam.

14. A red sun colours the horizon.



Breaking News

In breaking news, a government spokesman announced that all members of the so-called ‘gang of four’ have been found guilty of the terrorism charges they faced. Their sentences will be determined in the next two weeks. According to one expert, these are likely to see the ringleader, known as the mechanic, and possibly some of the other gang members, executed.

Another suspect, Anna ____________, who assisted the ‘gang of four’, has been placed in a psychiatric unit after suffering a breakdown during her trial. She was found guilty of providing material assistance to terrorists.

The spokesman said that all verdicts sent a clear message to the community that terrorism would be fought vigorously to defend and preserve society.





[i] Goldstein, Richard 2007 ‘Paul W Tibbets Jr, Pilot of Enola Gay, Dies at 92’, New York Times (2 November); Malnic, Eric 2007 ‘Paul Tibbets, Pilot Who Bombed Hiroshima, Dies at 92’, Los Angeles Times (2 November).

[ii] Edward A Dougherty [commentary], ‘Memories of the future: The poetry of Sadako Kurihara and Hiromu Morishita’, War, Literature and the Arts 23.1: 3 (accessed 17 February 2018).

[iii] Ferguson, F 1984 ‘The nuclear sublime’, Diacritics: Nuclear Criticism 14.2: 4.

[iv] Mason, Gregory 2005 ‘Witness and appropriation in Hibakusha stories’, Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice 17.411

[v] Uesugi, Tak 2009 ‘Gleaning silences: Suffering, re-memory and subjectivity’, vis-à-vis: Explorations in Anthropology 9.2:11.