Poetry Porch: Forgiveness


Army DoctoróUnit 731 
by Charles Fishman

         ófrom the testimony of Yuasa Ken

His father had a practice in Shitamachi,
the old district of Tokyo, and a hunger
to be a doctor grew inside him. When the war
knocked at his window, he was ready:
you canít cure the soon-to-be-dead
without doctors. Dispatched to Shansi

province in China, he flew like a night moth
to the hospital, where the bitter cold
did not daunt him: he was a warrior,
a samurai in a fresh white coat. Still,
he felt his bones go cold and his will waver,
for he knew what manner of death lived there.

In the hospital, he stepped into the circle
of his destiny, where others had gathered,
but only to act out their supporting roles:
he was the one who would follow orders
or issue commands. The smiling Red Cross
nurses had been over this ground before

but never with such a good-looking young doctor,
and their cheerful demeanor made him think:
What if this man tried to fleeóif he died
under the knife, without a last meal or a call
to his family, without his Shansi gods clustered
around him? He thought these things, but they

were not his concern. If he did not practice
on the living, how would he learn? He would not
lose heart with everyone watching and made the log
lie down: he would not be embarrassed by weakness.
The anesthetic took effect, but the appendix
was hard to locate, and the opening of the pharynx

was a puzzle to resolve, like the opening of a gate
in a walled garden. When this prisoner was neatly
dissected, yet would not die, he, Yuasa Ken, watched
the director of the hospital inject air into his heart.
This was the first time he understood the power
that lived in his uniform, in his surgeonís tools,

in his hands, and each incision he made after this
seemed easier. He practiced sewing up intestines
that had slipped from living bodies, and he watched
as the dentist excised healthy teeth    as the urologist
scalpeled testicles, and he took pride in these things:
he was a loyal servant of the Japanese nation.

Gradually, he came to enjoy his accomplishments
and, in town, would swing his shoulders: the girls loved
his swagger, and all the local men deferred to himó
everyone admires an officer! The city moved
with the merest rise in his voice, with the merest dip.
Sake overflowed his cup.

                                    * *

After the war, he had eleven years to think, but then
he was released from prison, and the nurses
who had served with him took his face in their hands:
their words were softer and more fragrant than cherry
blossoms torn and scattered by the wind. But an old pain
flooded him, and he asked them to remember:

they had been with him at Shansi. Hadnít they
held down his victims and complained, Sleep, sleepó
drug give!, in that parody of Chinese? Didnít they feel
the same shudder he felt rush through them now,
as if death had brushed their hearts?

Copyright © 1999 by Charles Fishman. Used with permission of Charles Fishman.

Note: Army Doctor-Unit 731: Log was military jargon for the victims of Unit 731 medical atrocities. Yuasa Ken now works in a clinic and lives near Ogikubo in Tokyo.