When I visited Hiroshima, I had a strange sensation that was unlike any other that I’ve experienced before or since. While strolling along the concrete pathways from one bronze memorial plaque to the next, I had the suspicion that I was not alone, that there was a presence walking down the concrete paths beside me. It was similar to the feeling of being watched, but distinct from it – the sense that something was there, indefinable but as present as the sunlight or wind. What was it? A hallucination? The dead? My consciousness of history? An imaginative response to the tragedies that happened there? I don’t know. However, I remember that this presence felt real, even as I realized that it must have been only some sleight-of-hand of my mind.
I’ve since met others who had experiences that resembled what I sensed at Hiroshima. A few people I know have claimed to have been in the presence of a ghost, and they too had that overwhelming sensation of something there. They believed that they were seeing (or in one case, hearing the babblings of) an entity in the same way that they could detect their spouse or cat in the same room, but in a way that was more intense than usual. I heard the same thing from a friend who told me of her nervous breakdown in graduate school. She would be reading quietly at her desk when she would sense someone at her elbow. When she looked up, some long-dead poet whom she was studying would nod at her and show a great curiosity in what she thought of his work. The conversations she had with these presences felt perfectly real and natural to her, even if she was conscious that, like Ivan Karamazov and his devil, she was speaking to her own imagination rather than with the spirit of Tennyson or Browning.
I’m not impressionable enough to believe that the dead of Hiroshima decided to drift alongside me during the few hours I spent at the park, but I can’t dismiss what I seemed to sense, either. That weird presence made my afternoon at the Peace Memorial Park one of the most vivid episodes of my life. The reality of that unseen something struck me as being greater than the keys of the laptop I am tapping on now, and I would have sworn an oath as to something being there in some unexplained way. So where does that leave me? My greatest epiphany was a lie of my senses with as much substance as a ghost. And if I cannot trust myself at those moments when I am the most open to the world, then what can I trust?
rising from the paved paths
a ghostly heat