H.K. Hummel

H.K. Hummel

I am haunted by a photograph taken of my grandfather as a young man, when he was stationed on the Marshall Islands. In the photograph, he looks so happy, jaunty, and whole. He wasn’t that way after he returned. The U.S. detonated 23 nuclear bombs on the Bikini Atoll between 1946 and 1958. I can’t stop thinking about the fallout—for the islands’ inhabitants, the environment, my grandfather, or the rest of us. As I worked on this poem, I wanted to create a companion to that original photograph—a multidimensional image that confronted the aftermath.  Yves Bonnefoy said, “At its most intense, reading is empathy, shared existence.” Sometimes, in order to contend with the implications of what it means to be living today, I have to write my way into that shared existence with another. I write because a poem can be a nimble mode of inquiry and self-study. This poem allowed me to carry, for the length of it, a portion of my grandfather’s responsibility alongside him.