9 August 1945: A makeshift house made from the rubble left by the atomic bomb explosion in Nagasaki. Photo: Keystone/Getty.
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"Nagasaki: Midori’s Rosary": a poem by Rowan Williams

The air is full of blurred words. Something
has changed in the war’s weather. The children
(whose children will show me this) have been sent
to the country. In the radiology lab,
Takashi fiddles, listening to the ticking bomb
in his blood cells, thinks, once, piercingly,
of her hands and small mouth, knotting him in
to the long recital of silent lives
under the city’s surface, the ripple of blurred Latin,
changing nothing in the weather of death and confession,
thinks once, in mid-morning, of a kitchen floor, flash-frozen.
 
When, in the starburst’s centre,
the little black mouth opens, then clenches,
and the flaying wind smoothes down the grass 
and prints its news black on bright blinding
walls, when it sucks back the milk
and breath and skin, and all the world’s vowels
drown in flayed throats, the hard things,
bone and tooth, fuse into consonants of stone,
Midori’s beads melt in a single mass
around the shadow with its blackened hands
carved with their little weeping lips.
 
Days earlier, in Hiroshima, in what was left
of the clinic chapel, little Don Pedro, turning
from the altar to say, The Lord be with you,
heard, suddenly, what he was about to claim,
seeing the black lips, the melted bones,
and so, he said, he stood, his small mouth
open, he never knew how long, his hands
out like a starburst, while the dialogue
of stony voiceless consonants ground across
the floor, like gravel in the wind, and the two
black mouths opened against each other,
 
Nobody knowing for a while 
which one would swallow which.
 
*

A note on the poem: Midori Nagai was a young housewife from an old Nagasaki Catholic family who died in the bomb blast in 1945; her husband (Takashi) was a radiologist, and after the war became a peace activist. The melted rosary is preserved at a museum in Nagasaki commemorating Takashi Nagai’s work.

Rowan Williams is a poet, critic and theologian, and former archbishop of Canterbury. He is Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge. Dr Williams’s new collection, The Other Mountain, will be published by Carcanet in October.

Rowan Williams is an Anglican prelate, theologian and poet, who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 2002 to 2012. He writes on books for the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 29 January 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The seven per cent problem

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Netflix's Ozark is overstuffed – not to mention tonally weird

Could the channel use a hit? Every time my subscription leaves my bank account, I think again that it could.

The main reason why Ozark, the new Netflix series, feels so underpowered has to do with its star, Jason Bateman (who also directs): a good actor who badly wants for charisma, he simply can’t carry it alone. Watching the first few episodes, I kept thinking of Jon Hamm in Mad Men and (a better example here) Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad, both of whom played, as does Bateman, characters around which the plots of their respective series turned. When they were on screen, which was often, it was all but impossible to tear your eyes from them; when they were off it, you felt like you were only biding your time until they returned. But when Bateman disappears from view, you hardly notice. In fact, it feels like a plus: at least now you might get to see a bit more of the deft and adorable Laura Linney.

In Ozark, Bateman is Marty, an outwardly square guy whose big secret is that he is a money launderer for the second biggest drugs cartel in Mexico. When the series opens, he and his wife Wendy (Linney) and their two children are living in Chicago, where he nominally works as a financial advisor.

By the end of the first episode, however, they’re on their way to the Lake of the Ozarks in rural Missouri. Marty’s partner, Bruce, has been on the fiddle, and the cartel, having summarily executed him, now wants Marty both to pay back the cash, and to establish a few new businesses in which future income may be cleaned far from the prying eyes of the law enforcement agencies. If this sounds derivative, it is. We’re in the realm of Breaking Bad, only where that show gave us out-of-control Bunsen burners and flesh-eating chemicals, this one is more preoccupied with percentages and margins.

Where’s the friction? Well, not only is the FBI on Marty’s tail, his wife has been cheating on him, with the result that their marriage is now just another of his business arrangements. The locals (think Trump supporters with beards as big as pine trees) have proved thus far to be on the unfriendly side, and having paid off their debts, the only house Marty can afford has a cliché – sorry, crotchety old guy – living in the basement. On paper, admittedly, this all sounds moderately promising. But hilarity does not ensue. As dull as the Lake of the Ozarks when the tourist season is over, not even Linney can make Bill Dubuque’s dialogue come alive. Her character should be traumatised: before they left Chicago, the cartel, for reasons I do not completely understand, pushed her podgy lover – splat! – off his balcony. Instead, she’s fussing about the crotchety old guy’s sexism.

Ozark is overstuffed and tonally weird, so I won’t be binge-watching this one. This completes rather a bad run for me and Netflix; after the lame new series of House of Cards and the egregious Gypsy, this is the third of its shows on the trot to bore me rigid. Could the channel use a hit? Every time my subscription leaves my bank account, I think again that it could.

And now to The Sweet Makers: A Tudor Treat (19 July, 8pm), in which we hear the sound of the “living history” barrel being scraped so loudly, those attending the meeting at which it was commissioned must surely have worn ear defenders. Basically, this is a series in which four confectioners “go back in time” to discover how their forebears used sugar (first, the Tudors; next week, the Georgians).

What it means in practice is lots of Generation Game-style faffing with candied roses and coriander comfits by people in long skirts and silly hats – a hey-nonny-nonny fiesta of pointlessness that is itself a sugar coating for those nasty things called facts (ie a bit of tokenism about slavery and our ancestors’ trouble with their teeth).

Resident expert, food historian Dr Annie Gray, strained to give the proceedings urgency, sternly reminding the confectioners that the sugar house they’d spent hours building did not yet have a roof. But who cared if it didn’t? Destined to be eaten by fake Tudor guests at a fake Tudor banquet, it wasn’t as if anyone was going to lose their head for it – not even, alas, at Broadcasting House. 

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder

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