Let Us Be Midwives! An untold story of the atomic bombing
by Sadako Kurihara, translated by Richard Minear
Night in the basement of a concrete structure now in ruins.
Victims of the atomic bomb jammed the room;
It was dark—not even a single candle.
The smell of fresh blood, the stench of death,
The closeness of sweaty people, the moans.
From out of all that, lo and behold, a voice:
“The baby’s coming!”
In that hellish basement,
At that very moment, a young woman had gone into labour.
In the dark, without a single match, what to do?
People forgot their own pains, worried about her.
And then: “I’m a midwife. I’ll help with the birth.”
The speaker, seriously injured herself, had been moaning only moments before.
And so new life was born in the dark of that pit of hell.
And so the midwife died before dawn, still bathed in blood.
Let us be midwives!
Let us be midwives!
Even if we lay down our own lives to do so.
Sadako Kurihara (1913-2005)
The poet, writer and peace activist Sadako Kurihara lived in Hiroshima and survived the atomic bombing of August 1945. She is best known for this poem Umashimenkana, translated as ‘Let us be midwives’. The poem is based on Kurihara’s own experience in a shelter under the Sendamachi post office in the aftermath of the destruction of Hiroshima. In reality, the midwife survived and was later able to meet the child she had delivered.
After the war Sadako Kurihara took up writing along with her husband Kurihara Tadaichi, and was fully engaged in the worldwide peace and antinuclear movements. In 1960 she wrote Auschwitz and Hiroshima: Concerning Literature of Hiroshima about the writers’ responsibility for remembrance. In 1969 she founded a citizens’ group Hiroshima Mothers’ Group against A-Bombs and H-Bombs and published an anthology of poetry about Hiroshima The River of Flame Running in Japan. The following year she started the journal, The Rivers in Hiroshima. She also edited journals, wrote essays.
Nazim Hikmet: Hiroshima and Strontium 90 (April 2015)