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(to Minnie Vautrin and Iris Chang)

"For the memories themselves are still nothing. Not till they have turned to blood within us."

—Rainer Maria Rilke


At first the letters were a forest without paths,

Branch upon branch, thorn against thorn,

Then the next-door grandpa taught me tricks:

Two lines for a man, three for a stream,

Four for a water drop bursting the evening pond.

For others I invented names

To make my little brother laugh:

Man standing to pee, momma killing a chicken.

Strange characters began to tell a story.

This was my twelfth year.

You want to know about the war?

My tale is short: Bad stars fell.

The rich left town. The poor were left.

December was too cold to weep.


Why tell you memories are a forest without paths: screams and knee against thigh the corpses piled breast upon belly and the smell of iron? Why tell you yesterday's flesh today blue curves and angles squint tight your eyes try not to read the message of their bayonets and burns? Why tell you the knocking door squinting my eyes curving my angles trying not to hear my ripping flesh an ocean without bottom?

You would drown too.

Why tell you the empty box by the kitchen door the too-much roar of bombs the shattering of shutters? Tell you the piss the scrubbing of shirts the fallen rice poured out into the jagged emptiness broken street? Tell you a single finger in the dirt the ragged join of leg and hip laid bare the hang of tendon crunch of bone? Tell you the row of naked feet by the river backwards swing of a noose?

You would hang too.

Tell you strange new craters of his face after the bullet and a trunkless head black hair turned dull staring from a red platter on the gray street? Tell you ragged skirt hems hacking at hairless napes skin wrenched from the red muscle one liquid breath before death? The night of broken doors little brother with a stick man with a club tongues without music barking and inside out their skins made wolves of their hearts guzzled our breath for warmth?

You would get eaten too.


Now the next-door grandpa doesn't speak.

Little brother wakes too soon.

Two lines for a man.

I used to like that shape.

I throw my pencils on the fire

and how beautifully they burn.

You learned it well—to remember is to burn.

Our memories are ashes and blood

letters without meaning

forests without paths

legs without feet

this pain asks

a question

with no

Note: Minnie Vautrin (1886-1941) was the missionary, educator and president of Ginling College, Nanjing, who protected thousands of Chinese citizens from Japanese soldiers during the 1937 Rape of Nanjing. Iris Chang (1968-2004) was the journalist who documented the Nanjing atrocities and brought them to prominence in her 1991 bestseller The Rape of Nanking. Both women ended their lives by committing suicide.


Nanking: A Child’s Memory

Shelby Song,  San Francisco, CA

At the foot of the osmanthus hill by the walled city of Nanking,

Once the realm of emperors, princes and concubines,

A little girl was born.

She had dimples as cute as buttons

And a full head of hair the color of the shiniest inkstone.

But her mother sighed,

Her father sighed,

Her great aunt sighed,

“Why do you have to be born a girl?

And why now, in this dreadful year of 1934?

Warlords have been fighting all around us,

The Japanese army has bombed our store in Manchuria,

We are war refugees in Nanking,

We are barely making ends meet,

A boy would at least carry on our family name,

But a girl is but an extra mouth to feed.

But feed her they did,

And nurture her they did,

With whatever little they had,

And with whatever vices they possessed,

For who could resist those dimples as cute as buttons,

Hair the color of the shiniest inkstone.

They taught her to sing, they taught her to dance,

They taught her to write with a wolf-haired writing brush.

She was the apple of her great aunt’s eye,

She was a delight of her village.

The world was her great aunt smothering her with cuddles after emerging from the haze of the opium den.

The world was her mother squeezing her on her cheeks after collecting her winnings at the mahjong hall.

The world was her wading in the river with playmates searching for the speckled river stones

And the world was the warplanes whirring in the distance.

They say children under three don’t remember,

But she remembered, and she remembered well.

She remembered the ineffable fear of the villagers crying out that Shanghai had fallen and Nanking would soon too.

She remembered the haggard eyes of the retreating Chinese soldiers banging on their doors, begging for food and water, their blood-soaked bandages dangling.

She remembered the deafening throb of the artillery

and the thunderous thrust of the canon fire that silenced all thrushes, robins, magpies, crickets, frogs and the wailing of babies.

and painted the blue sky scarlet red.

She remembered her great aunt begging her young mother to go and hide, her voice trembling in subdued anguish.

She remembered being carried on the back of her father, passing by corpse after corpse, severed limb after severed limb, as they trudged along in search of food at the local temple.

She remembered the deathly silence of the crowd when the soldiers came, soldiers in uniforms she had never seen, soldiers with the flag of the rising sun fluttering on their bayonets

Even sniveling babies dared not cry.

She remembered the soldier telling those wretched souls crowding the temple that anyone who had contracted malaria must be brought forth.

She remembered her great aunt whispering to her, “Child, if the Japanese come to you, be still, be very, very still.”

She remembered the muffled howls of parents whose malaria-infected children or those who merely looked jaundiced were taken away, the lucky ones shot, the rest cut down with bayonets and sabers.

She remembered the scrawny solider coming to her, his cold, cold sword glistening in the chilly December sun.

She remained still, deathly still, as her teeth chattered, her tiny face drained of blood.

She remembered the soldier’s cold, cold stare, and her great aunt’s lips quivering in the wintry blast.

“Sir, she does not have malaria. Look at her, she is one healthy, healthy child.”

Perhaps fortune favored her,

Perhaps her tiny face, frozen in terror, drained of blood, already looked dead,

Perhaps the soldier’s saber had simply grown dull,

Perhaps she was spared by serendipity.

But she remembered it all,

Because one’s memories are seared into one’s mind, like petroglyphs carved deep into the rocks that will last a thousand years.

When the river is dyed crimson by the endless flow of blood of the murdered

When the dead lie unburied and are piled sky high

When a child is thrust to the edge of hell and barely comes back from death,

She will remember and remember well.

That child is my mother,

Traumatized as a child,

Scarred for life.

But her story will not be silenced,

And her memories will live on.  


On 13 December 1937, in Nanjing

Masooma Ali, Karachi, Pakistan

An unforgettable massacre took place.

It was the capital of China before Beijing,

But destroyed by the Japanese race.

Oh! The Massacre Of Nanjing.

Before the Japanese troops invaded,

The Nanjing were mere people.

Happy and cheerful before happiness faded,

Worked in all fields but in the illegal.

Love and peace resided everywhere,

Men and women were treated well.

And their matters were handled with care,

Before the Japanese turned Nanjing to hell.

Every happiness was taken away,

When entered the Japanese troops.

Properties were robbed and burned to hay,

And men were shot in groups.

The women were horribly looted,

Not even minor girls were left.

Awfully raped and badly treated,

The worst of all is honor’s theft.

Two Japanese officers Noda and Mukai,

Played the horrible killing contest.

They killed with swords and didn’t even shy,

Destroying a hundred dove’s nest.

The heroes of Nanjing are still known today,

Behind Rabe, Vautrin and Magee stayed.

To help the civilians to safely get away,

Saved thousands of people and their part was played.

Near the “Thousand Corpses Pit”,

“A Nanjing Memorial Hall” is built.

Where even today souls sit,

Waiting for the Japanese to feel the guilt.

Oh! The Massacre Of Nanjing.                    


[No easy way to express the outrage of the ‘Rape of Nanjing’]

The Hungry Ghosts Of The ‘Rape Of Nanjing’

Sylvia Anne Telfer,  Scotland, UK

China’s essence, the Yangtse River, spills

a precious cargo of another sort of lifeblood

into sea beyond Shanghai,

Nanjing ponds are corpse-choked chills

down spine, and raped women,

skirts hitched high beyond thigh, lie

in ungainly poses, butchered by

the Japanese Imperial Army,

men without roses thumbing noses

at safety zones.

Will female bones remember

this terrible December

or the phoenix enfolding?

Unassailable dignity enthrones

their tortured faces for they

are lotuses rising pure out of muck

but still everywhere death fouls air

and mass killings suck away most graces;

some weep, some scream, some gape

for day after day, plunder, ashes,

capricious slaughter with no escape.

Even the city’s magpies shun the scene.

Smash of windows, crash of looting

in the scent of sticky rice buns

snatched from the hands of hungry Han

are barbarities shocking global

newstands but the evil grips harder

and somewhere nearby

a Japanese soldier blades a boy

whose screams impel those

of the wounded to live on, revenge.

Hungry ghosts gather,

cherry blossoms wither.


And so, today, in the seventh month

in the lunar year, as in all the years

since ‘The Great Sin’, hungry ghosts

oppose the venomous ones

for in loss of whole families,

no ceremonies, no chants in praise

of parental love or filial piety.

But by the grace of the Jade Emperor

many crystal glasses sow rice

in a spiritual realm and joss sticks

make fragrant those spectral paddies

as kin kneel before clan altars

in this city, Nanjing, still with its birth

wall of brick, gravel, yellow earth.

In now tranquil Jinling Girls College

is a statue of the missionary,

Minnie Vuatrin,

that fearless sword of all.

Dead a long time now Minnie Vautrin

from America that Chinese folk call

‘The Goddess of Mercy’

but your selfless words live on,

“Had I ten perfect lives,

I would give them all to China.”

How stark was your terror when in dark

a truck passed you with seized girls?

How fast were the swirls

of your despair at their yell,

“Save our lives!”

when impossible in an evil crucible?

How many hungry ghosts?

How many unsung heroes?

“Only God knows.”

The humane will always man their posts,

forever build walls against enemies

for the tortoise tiptoes,

the dragon is pregnant

and the Purple Mountain weeps,

offers the plump falls of its plum trees.   


tears in the sky

Michele Baron, Dulles VA

towering city, at once modern and ancient

seat of empires and conquests, dynasties, and dreams,

hosts of harvests, and sorrows, and terrible wrongs,

… and home, now, to hopes, which, finally, begin

to fill our days, and shine light on our tomorrows

echoes past contrast with gaiety of the present —

pop culture and Ming Tombs; the horror of war,

the river of tears of the 300,000

join the mythical power of timeless mountains and waters

enduring, wordless, through days and nights, across ages and eons

what do we learn, from the trees, and the grasses,

cut down, with knives, and axes,

yet growing back, again, and again?

what do we learn, as the sun lends it light

to the bleeding, weeping skies?

… when we are buried,

we can no longer change

the days we share,

under the heavens

while we live, every breath is a new chance

to wash away, like great rivers,  the ugliness of memories we cannot change;

to leave behind, smooth, and shining,

the glorious truths that our lives had worth, have meaning … 

the beauty of the souls that passed, but will never, ever, be forgotten



 Yue Li, Rockville, MD

---- To commemorate the 80th anniversary of the death of compatriots in the "Nanjing Massacre"

How could I forgive you? The Zhidu Mountain precipitous,

Shadows of rocks, and the turbid

Rushing river.

In the distance, black sand and mud are soaked with red blood.

There, are my brothers and fellow villagers, who

Need to be buried.    

How could I forgive you? Forgive the rope tightly

Binding me, or the cold sharp blade

Held high over head? In the eyes filled with blood lust,

A stone-built elegant imperial city collapses, burned and destroyed

Under artillery fire.

How could I forgive you? With the wound on my forehead,

Or still bleeding heart?

On the Thousand-Buddha Cliff, the carved stones’, toward the dusty world,

Drooping eyelids?

Or a benevolent’s, for a bloodthirsty beast, contempt and fearlessness?

The river is still torrential, flowing


The ringing bell of the Qixia Temple becomes silent

Under the bloody sky at dusk......

The Swallow Crag towering ---- a nestling bird


Its broken wings.  




Who will speak up

for the Chinese people of Nanking city,

acknowledge their suffering

at the hands of Japanese soldiers

perverting the way of Bushido,


who will speak up

for the babies they bayonetted,

the children, the maidens,

the old women, they raped,

the civilians they decapitated,

the prisoners they injected

with cholera, mutilated -

stomachs ripped open,

limbs frozen, amputated?


History recording, debating, statistics.

Each one of the countless victims

had a name when living.

Who will speak up

for the Chinese people of Nanking city?

Will Purple Gold mountain, there

when they were being burned to death

their bodies thrashing writhing

their screams hammering the air,

or the tons of earth

they were buried alive under,

or the Yangtze river

that caught them when they fell,

blasted with bullets, turning it red?

Who will speak up

for the Chinese people of Nanking city?

Who will remember

the acts of kindness from their own,

those of another country,

American, Danish, German,

driven by a common humanity

to do something?

The Pastor, the Missionary,

the Teacher, the Nazi, stood between,

saved thousands of Chinese.

We must speak up

for the Chinese of Nanking,

we must remember

those who came with compassion,

defied the danger, and took them in.



No Peace Without Justice

David Lohrey,  Green Cove Springs, FL

It’s not on the cultural radar as are the Japanese cities, Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It lacks the prestige of nuclear annihilation. The Chinese in Nanking died, and nobody denies it, but their deaths lack nuclear glamour.

History moves on and the criminals get away. That’s harsh, that’s rude,

but that’s the way it is. The Americans didn’t push prosecutions after the war

and very soon the guilty and the victims were forgotten.

For many, forgiveness is easy. Give the Japanese a break, some say, forget it.

Time to move on, but the crime of genocide doesn’t disappear; death by

Imperial fanatics doesn’t just go away. It stays.

The Americans and the Japanese cooked up the myth of the peace-loving Japanese after the war. It was the propagandists’ way to defeat the rise of communism. Suddenly, the enemy had become a new friend.

Instead of blood-thirsty killers, the Japanese were depicted as innocent victims and peace-lovers. “We would never do a thing like that!” and the world chose to believe them. Nanking was dropped from the cultural radar.

Nobody wants vengeance. It is time to move on, but it will never be time to forget. We must take a good hard look at history. Nanking was a death capital as terrifying as Dresden, as ghastly as Buchenwald. What happened there was no accident.

The murderers in Nanking looked their victims in the eye and stabbed them in the heart. They were as heartless as the American bombers, but they didn’t just look down and push a button, as they did over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

They murdered with relentless determination and with sadistic glee. They stabbed pregnant women and chopped up infants. They shot men between the eyes. They drove over living victims; it was a killing spree.

Nobody wants vengeance but we must all take an oath of remembrance. It is time to move on, they say, and we agree, but we must never forget it. There can be no healing without justice. These deaths haunt the present.

We demand nothing more than recognition, an acknowledgment of responsibility, not even an apology, just sincere regret. This war is over. We are ready to shake hands. We’ll never forget but we can move on. Nobody wants vengeance.  


I, Minnie

Joanna Oltman Smith, Brooklyn, NY

(All text from Minnie Vautrin’s Diary, Nanjing, 1937, Yale School of Divinity Archives)

Within one’s own consciousness

there was a fear

of unknown danger.

I shall sleep

with my clothes

on tonight.

The mother whose

twelve year-old girl

was shut outside the city

has stood outside our gate

most of the day

scanning the city

for some sign

of her little daughter.

Tomorrow is Sunday,

I believe.

All days are alike now.

Such deep indignation

at such destruction

and suffering rises within me

that I have difficulty

in controlling myself.

I saw a great

ribbon of fire

on Purple Mountain.

They are fearful…

for they have young

girls in their family.

Few people will sleep

in the city tonight.

War is a sin against

the creative spirit

at the heart

of the universe.

Stories of young girls who

were mistreated

are coming in...

There is terror in

the faces of the women….

many young women were taken

from their homes

by the Japanese soldiers.

There probably is no crime

that has not been committed

in this city today.

Tonight a truck passed,

in which there were 8 or 10 women,

and as it passed they called out

Gin Ming. Gin Ming.

Save our lives.

Oh God, control the cruel

beastliness of the soldiers

in Nanking tonight...

Wish someone were here to write

the sad story of each person —

especially that of the younger girls

who had blackened their faces

and cut their hair.

The fruits of war are




The soldiers on guard

get a good amount of amusement

from herding people like cattle

and sometimes they put the stamp

on their cheek.

...the dried leaves rattling,

the wind moaning,

the cry of women being led out…  

Artist’s Note (as requested by poetry contest coordinator):

I read Wilhelmina “Minnie” Vautrin’s (an American missionary in charge of Ginling College in Nanjing) diaries throughout the period of the fall of Nanjing, and was overwhelmed by her first person account. I majored in history, so I was 100% true to her actual words. Where I used only partial sentences, I inserted ellipses.        jo@nycsmith.com

Will of a Comfort Woman

Yearn Hong Choi,  Fairfax Station, VA

For a long time, I could not breathe.

Life has been a burden on me:

Harsh, tough, and merciless.

Time and time again, I missed  Bo, MIyako and Sunyi

Who were raped and killed in the Southeast Asian jungle

70-some years ago.

My country has been cruel to me.

Some luck survived the Japanese Sacred War,

Crimes of humanity.

The Japanese Government has been telling me

All wars must be brutal and cruel

Filled with barbarian killings and Massacre.

After the War, I washed my body hundred times, 

A thousand  times,

But I could not cleanse such a disgrace from my body and soul:

Disgrace was the fact that I was a woman born to a helpless kingdom.

Why should I feel shame?

The kingdom should be ashamed.

The War criminals should be ashamed of their acts.

Who would dare to cast a stone at me?

Those who would dare stone me 

First stone the King and Kingdom,

Stone the War,

And stone the Imperial Army and War history.

I could not face the Sun:

I could not face the light; and I could not face the Buddha.

Please cremate me with the shameful history of the Kingdom

And the Pacific War.

If I am reincarnated,

Let me be born as a beautiful woman in New Nation.

Please let me meet and marry a young man

Who is compassionate enough to comfort me, 

and is ready to fight these crimes against humanity.

Please let me bear and raise a healthy baby,

And let me be a lovely mother.


Avalokiresvara!   yearnhchoi@gmail.com

Nanjing - 1937

Gershon Ben-Avraham, Be’er Sheva, Israel

A woman's body was a sacred place,

A garden containing small seeds of life;

So it was with tender words, an embrace,

A Nanjing man would sweetly court his wife.

At first, she was coy, then bold—not afraid,

A willing partner in this game of love.

She’d share with him her holy hidden glade,

Whispering, cooing like a turtledove.

But then came soldiers giving rein to lust.

And for these men, a woman held no worth.

Her hidden gate if standing closed was forced.

Of no matter, a Nanjing woman's death,

Her sacred places pierced with glass or steel,

Sown with seeds of death, wounds that never heal.  


City of Sorrows

John F Keane, Stockport, United Kingdom

The moon bent like a bow, the sun setting

Smoke towers rise from delinquent fires

Women shriek from shuttered rooms

The coarse laughter of Imperial savages

Fresh corpses choke the wide Yangtze

The ragged shots of execution squads

Barked commands to loot, rape and kill:

How much sorrow can one city bear?

Shinto drums call for slaughter

Swords flash through exposed necks

Bayonets drive through clutching ribs

Blood-spattered Imperial flags flutter

Samurai heroes seek out old women

Rape passes are issued to the horde

Locusts descending on a ripe field:

How much sorrow can one city bear?

Half the wide Yangtze flows sunset red

The moon shelters behind clouds

Only the hungry fires light Nanjing

Sparks sweeping towards heaven

Soldiers rest, exhausted with slaughter

Empty your minds of shame or guilt

For you are all one in the Emperor:

How much sorrow can one city bear? 


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