The Diameter of the Bomb
The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
and the diameter of its effective
range – about seven meters.
And in it four dead and eleven wounded.
And around them in a greater circle
of pain and time are scattered
two hospitals and one cemetery.
But the young woman who was
buried where she came from
over a hundred kilometres away
enlarges the circle greatly.
And the lone man who weeps over her death
in a far corner of a distant country
includes the whole world in the circle.
And I won’t speak at all about the crying of orphans
that reaches to the seat of God
and from there onward, making
the circle without end and without God.
(Translated from the Hebrew by Yehuda Amichai and Ted Hughes.)
In his Introduction to Amichai’s Selected Poems (Faber and Faber 2000), Hughes writes “He found a voice not just for a people in crisis but for the resurrection of a people, an ancient people, which was simultaneously the creation of a new people – what was simultaneously that people’s emergence as a central character in a global political drama at the crux of two deadlocked civilisations.”
Who but Amichai can we turn to then, when horrors like the bombs in Bombay strike us? Amichai’s poems have an incredible ability to reach beyond the individual – they are not poems of personal grief, not simply poems that speak to the sadness of any one people, they are poems about the loss of all people everywhere. And yet for all the sorrow and outrage in them, for all the crying sense of injustice, they are also startlingly modern, unflinchingly matter of fact.
The Diameter of the Bomb is an excellent example. Amichai starts clinically, with the basic facts – details about the size of the bomb, its effective radius, the number of casualties, then slowly the details become people, the statistics turn human, and we are shown the real human cost of terrorism. But the circle does not stop there, the shock waves of Amichai’s poem ripple further, going past God and Heaven to an infinite emptiness. There is no God, or none that we can trust, there is only endless circle suffering that now includes us all.
The Diameter of the Bomb has long been one of my ‘favourite’ Amichai poems – and seeing the footage of the Bombay blasts on television it was the first poem I thought of.
Notes and Links:
 This recording is taken from The National Jewish Centre for Learning and Leadership’s Recording of A Ritual for Beginning to Remember – a collection of recordings put together to commemorate the first anniversary of 9/11. The Diameter of the Bomb is the first piece of the second part of the recording, which goes on beyond the Amichai poem (the other pieces are interesting and apt as well). You can find the full recording here.
 The translation of the poem being recited is different from the one I’ve posted here. I understand there’s a Stephen Mitchell translation of Amichai and I suspect that may be the version used. I’m not sure. At any rate, I personally like the Amichai-Hughes translations, and the basic sense of the poem stays pretty much the same.
For more commentary, see Minstrels
And more on Amichai here
Finally, you can find the Hebrew Text here. As the link shows, there’s also a setting of the poem for mezzo soprano and digital audio by Jonathan Berger.