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Fūsen Bakudan: Poems of Altruism and Tragedy in Wartime


by Charles Rammelkamp


A Saturday-Afternoon Picnic

                       On May 5, 1945, the only World War II
                       casualties on U.S. soil occurred near Klamath
                       Falls, Oregon, when a balloon-borne
                       Japanese bomb exploded, killing six.


We drove up from Bly, for a picnic
with the Sunday-school class,
since it was such a fine day,
but Gearhart Mountain was slipperier
than a sinner's soul trying to get into heaven,
with patches of snow and mud.

We skidded through the ponderosa pines,
like a sled over packed snow,
Elsie's tender belly doing flip-flops.
When we came up on a road grader
stuck like a horse in a mudhole,
she got out with the five kids,
to walk down the hill, settle her tummy,
while I questioned the crew
about the road ahead, the fishing in these parts.

"Look what I found, dear," Elsie called,
a hundred yards downhill from us,
the last words I'd ever hear her speak.
Next thing I knew, tree branches flew past,
dead logs jumped like frightened cats,
the air choked with pine needles and twigs.

Elsie shrieked, her dress on fire.
I flew to her, swatted with my bare hands,
trying to smother the blaze,
but it was too late —
six bodies scattered around a foot-deep hole,
near the weatherproofed paper balloon,
partly covered in a snowdrift,
the Japanese bomb drifted in on.

The history books say
they were the only six Americans to die
on United States soil,
but I number seven —
Elsie five months pregnant.


 

Praise:

Charles Rammelkamp's Fūsen Bakudan is a poignant, sensitively drawn evocation of war as karmic tragedy that goes on devouring the innocent from generation to generation.
— Professor Joel R. Cohn, Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, University of Hawaii at Manoa, translator of Natsume Soseki's Botchan

 

In Bly, Oregon, in 1945, a pastor’s pregnant wife is killed by a Japanese balloon bomb. Almost two decades later, that same pastor and his missionary colleagues are kidnapped by the Viet Cong from a jungle leprosarium. Rammelkamp’s ambitious collection circles these events from multiple perspectives. The fūsen bakudan, or balloon bomb, is an apt metaphor for both the tragedies that are the impetus for this collection and our reactions to them — the worst and best that flares up in all of us.
— Shelley Puhak, author of Stalin in Aruba



Charles Rammelkamp's book Fūsen Bakudan features compelling narrative sequences, in different voices, depicting the arc of a tragedy of World War II in Oregon and how, much later, it continues to impact the lives of a group of missionaries in Vietnam. This volume encompasses love and hope and loss in ways that are sometimes raw and often quite surprising.
— Susan Terris, author of The Homelessness of Self

 

While it is difficult to comprehend the significance of six deaths in Oregon compared to the hundreds of thousands of casualties in Japan and the millions who died in Europe, the poems in Fūsen Bakudan remind us that every death — and every life — matters.
Main Street Rag



Rammelkamp's second collection of poems, Fusen Bakudan: Poems of Altruism and Tragedy in Wartime, is a prismatic look at American life during World War II, as told by various characters at home and abroad, in dramatic lyric poems. The scheme is ambitious. It is buoyed by Rammelkamp's ease with creating characters in historical milieu.
— jmww.150m.com

To read a review of Fūsen Bakudan in the online magazine Chamber Four, click here.

 


 

This book is available in Kindle, Nook, Sony, Kobo, and Apple E-book formats, for purchase, and through public libraries' Overdrive account, for loan.