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'Big Stink, Necessary Evil': A Poem That Will Change Your Perspective on the Atomic Bombings (Audio)

    The 509th Composite Group aircraft immediately before their bombing mission of Hiroshima. (Harold Agnew / Wikimedia Commons)

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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