Jill McDonough’s poem on the planes that followed and photographed the atomic bombs the U.S. dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan during World War II is a harrowing depiction of the justifications that follow mass destruction.

Jill McDonough reads “Big Stink, Necessary Evil”

Big Stink, Necessary Evil

Jill McDonough

We named the plane that followed the Enola Gay to Hiroshima Necessary Evil. Big Stink followed the Nagasaki one, Bockscar. Big Stink, Necessary Evil took the photos you know from when we bombed Japan. Google for them and you see the plane itself, Our Lady of the Nose Cone: blonde, badly drawn, be-bikinied pre-Bikini Atoll. She straddles a smoking cityscape mapped out on a Japanese flag. Enola Gay didn’t get a lady, a sketch of ruin; just a name. Photos of Fat Man and Little Boy, deployed: black and whites of mushroom clouds ringed and haloed, expanding quick across horizons from 30,000 feet. Fresh cartographic perspective: mountains in the distance fade and blur like in a painting. The cloud is puffy, dense. Ring crisp and lovely in detail. It rises twice as high as the planes. Blots out that landscape, lost in real time. Rips a billowed tear in this new map.

Jill McDonough’s books of poems include “Habeas Corpus” (Salt, 2008) and “Where You Live” (Salt, 2012). The recipient of three Pushcart Prizes and fellowships from the Lannan Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, New York Public Library, Fine Arts Work Center and Stanford University, her work appears in Slate, The Threepenny Review, and Best American Poetry. She directs the Master of Fine Arts program at University of Massachusetts, Boston, and 24PearlStreet, the Fine Arts Work Center online. Her fourth poetry collection, “REAPER,” is forthcoming from Alice James Books.


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