Thursday, April 29, 2021

Penultimate Poems, Two More from Jerry Pendergast--—National Poetry Month 2021

Jerry Pendergast.

National Poetry Month is winding down but today for the first time we are featuring a living poet for the second time.  Chicago poet Jerry Pendergast’s consideration of the revolutionary singer/poet/god father of rap Gil Scott Heron appeared earlier.  But I still have two more strong efforts in my file that I cannot pass up passing on.

Sadako Sasaki was a Japanese girl who was a victim of the Atomic bombing of Hiroshima when she was two years old. Though severely irradiated, she survived for another ten years, becoming one of the most widely known hibakushabomb-affected person. She is remembered through the story of the one thousand origami cranes she tried to fold before her death.

Sadako Sasaki shortly before her death from radiation poisoning. 

Open Letter to Sadako Sasaki


The August that you were 2

a large hunk of metal with a tail

called Little Boy

hit your city

tossed you out of your bedroom window

three days before Fat Man

hit Nagasaki.


But you lived to run

fastest in your school

when you were 10.


Lived to feel your blood turn pale

Legs turn purple.

Fold paper cranes

before your last meal

with family and friends

by your hospital bed,

The October you were 12.

and I was 7 months.


Your statue holds a metal crane

In your raised arms

Standing on stone structure

taller than an Olympic Podium.

hollow in the middle

in Hiroshima Peace Park

Dedicated in 1958.


I see you sculpted in metal

in Seattle Peace Park

Dedicated Hiroshima Day 1990

You raise a crane in right hand.

Leaning forward, left hand pulled back

as if you were taking a stride.

Someone hung a string of paper cranes,

a rainbow of colors

on your shoulder.


If I were a sculptor

A track meet medal

would drape your neck

that a lump grew on

when you were 11.

I mentally place Olympic rings

and a question mark

among the flowers.




My first Summer Games memory

is from Rome 1960

Long jumpers

landing in sand.

I wonder now

if a jumper's imprint

is like one left by a vaporized body

if the stadium were ground zero.

for a nuclear attack.

You would have been 17.

I wonder, would you have been there?


I remember Tokyo 1964

October, the month you died

Gary Gubner from NYU

Arms raised in completed clean and jerk

Shot-put sailing from his shoulder.


I imagine you at age 21

running in the same stadium.

If I were a painter

I would portray you

in a lighter, shadowy image

on a track with opponents and team mates.

A crane flying above the shot put.


If I could paint a portrait of

of Mexico City, Summer Games 1968

I would shadow you in

as I imagine you at age 25.

Wearing a medal

made of iron shrapnel

Glass from a shattered window

and hint of blood,

and an eye of a gunned down marcher

in the middle.


You approach the podium

Where Tommie Smith, John Carlos

and Peter Norman stand.

All of you wear

Olympic Project for Human Rights buttons.





quake, tsunami

power plant explosion

images on my TV screen.


I see a young girl

running through streets

Near Fukushima

Another near Chernobyl

Are T-cells growing inside their bodies?

Can any kind of treatment defeat them?

Is your spirit with them?


Will they be nameless

because these disasters

were from sort of

accidental explosions?


—Jerry Pendergast

Music, especially jazz often inspires Pendergast.  In this verse it is the soundtrack to a mundane task and a haunting reminder of a terrible tragedy and injustice.

An urban laundromat.



Steady piano

and bass

Low range

quiet intensity

like humming or droning

before the first verse of a hymn

Drums intensify abruptly.

tenor sax starts dirge.

Tune called ALABAMA

on the radio

I sort my laundry.

Piano descending in pitch.

short pauses


lightly hitting symbols

A whole note pause.

Sax dirge returns

I lift my laundry sack

over my shoulder.




At the matt next door I wonder

“should I wash my loads clean and bright

with Blue Cheer

or Blue Tide?”

Or do I need another cleanser?

Sax and drum flurry

still playing inside me

Something vocal from the drummer

don't think it has

 any words

I load the machines

Proud that no one

burns or bombs churches

in my neighborhood.

Why can’t the drummer’s chant

have words?

I pour in the soap, see

two young Women

folding a sheet

I feel some pride

That no one walks around

with sheets over heads

in my neighborhood, and that

I live on the Civil War’s

Winning side.

Why can’t the drummers chant

Why ca’ ca’ can’t the drummer’s chant

have words?




My cross hall neighbors

Unlock their door when I lock mine.

We greet

One is a girl I guess to be 9 or 10

Looks like she’s been crying.

Not sure what’s making her sad.

“Could anyone hear

the four girls cry

or shout?”

I wonder

while pouring in fabric softener

Or did the explosion

silence them instantly?

Leave a scream somewhere

Between the gut

and the throat

of Addie or Denise?

Carole or Cynthia?

The DJ’s voice

quoting Dr. King

“They had something to say

to us all”

Blends in

with the drum and sax


Were there any words

I wonder

stuck in the chest

or the throats

of friends or family?




A black woman

I guess about age 30

enters the laundry matt

The manager focuses on her

from his office.

I sling my laundry

clean and dry

over my shoulder

Sound of the sax and drums

saturate my blood stream

I trade greetings

with cross hall neighbor

He turns

Opens detergent

I push door to exit.

I tell myself it’s good

to live close to a laundry matt.

And I tell myself it’s good

that no church explodes

or burns

in my neighborhood.


—Jerry Pendergast

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