On World Poetry Day, we honor a poem written in 1995 by the late David Krieger, a champion for peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons.

On Becoming Death

“Now I am become death,
The shatterer of worlds.”
           —Bhagavad Gita

When Oppenheimer thought,
“Now I am become death,”
did he mean
“Now we have become death?”
Was Oppenheimer thinking
about himself, or all of us?

From Alamogordo to Hiroshima
took exactly three weeks.
On August 6th, Oppenheimer
again became death.
So did Groves,
and Stimson and Byrnes.
So did Truman.
So did a hundred thousand
that day in Hiroshima.
So did America.

“This is the greatest thing
in history,” Truman said.
He didn’t think
he’d become death
that day.

We Americans
know how to win.
Truman was a winner,
a shatterer of worlds.
Three days later, Truman
and his military boys
did it again at Nagasaki.

Sometime later,
Oppenheimer visited Truman.
“I have blood on my hands,”
Oppenheimer said.
Truman didn’t like those words.

Blood?
Whose blood?
When Oppenheimer left,
Truman said,
“Don’t ever
Let him in
Here again.”

That August of ‘45
Truman and his military boys
shattered a few worlds.
They never learned
That the worlds they shattered
Included their own.

David Krieger
1995