About that Little Boy

(excerpted from a manuscript in progress)

Image of the A-bomb Dome, Hiroshima, Japan

A-bomb Dome, Hiroshima, Japan

“You ok, Mom?” My twenty-something son, standing at the UNESCO dedication stone, glanced over his right shoulder to where I stood, a large trembling mass, ready to burst. Breath, unsteady. Gaspy. Tears already patterning my cheeks. My son knows me well.

Moments earlier, our family of four had stepped off the Hiroshima City Transit bus to walk a tree-lined street on a warm spring day in Japan. Sunhat on head, camera in hand – the perfect tourist – I prepared to shoot.

Then Genbaku, the A-Bomb Dome, the skeletal remains and rubble of the Prefectural Industrial Promotional Hall built in 1914. Protected now by a black wrought iron fence, it is the only building left standing near the epicentre of the August 6, 1945 US Forces’ bomb, Little Boy, even though Japan had already issued a conditional surrender to Allied forces. The untested nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima killed sixty-six thousand people almost immediately. Seventy percent of the dead were civilians – collateral damage. Another sixty-nine thousand, injured. At the very least, an additional sixty thousand died by the end of 1945. How many more from radiation-related illness and disease? From shock, depression, birth defects? What of the intergenerational trauma? The orphans and forgotten? Who knows what else?

“Just give me a minute, ok?” I said as the crumbled bones of a building continued to register meaning. Rooted in place, a range of physical, psychological, and emotional experiences raced through me. But my son’s voice called me to the present, to my body as it stood at the northern edge of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. I knew that I could not ignore what was happening in this moment, through this act of bearing witness, this was not the time or the place.

Though I wanted to drop to my knees and wail, I dropped into a breathing exercise. In and out, setting aside emotion for later. Remembering now. Vacation time. Golden week in Japan. Many families. My family. Tourists. A culture I did not know.

I could not look away. A rumble started in my gut. My chest ached. I would remember this moment. I would try to write it.

With a sharp inhalation I focused my camera on the cindercrete debris. Back-and-forth, photobombing the ruins from different angles, all the while yearning for a telephoto lens to take me more deeply into that darkness, to capture more intimate details of the wreckage, the breadth of the destruction. How many stood inside at the moment the building fell? How can periwinkle blossom around such a place?

A place on the planet significant enough to preserve as a UNESCO World Heritage site, this human contradiction: “tremendous destructive power” and “hope for world permanent peace.” A memorial. A memory. Re-membering.

c. 2019 Bernadette Wagner

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Filed under #uranium, Anti-nuke, CanLit, creative nonfiction, Japan

spring’s arrival!

The Saskatchewan Writers Guild (SWG) contracted me to perform the duties of Managing and Poetry editors alongside Edward Willet, Prose editor, for spring volume 11: emerging saskatchewan writers. We started in December, with 122 submissions. We worked all winter. And, we launch this week! On March 21 we will be at the Revival Music Room in Regina. On March 26 we will have a sister launch in Saskatoon at the Refinery. Both will begin at 7 pm.

It’s been a thrill for me to work with these writers, with Ed, and with our fantastic SWG staff. It wasn’t that long ago that then-Saskatoon author, Shelley Leedahl, served as Poetry editor and worked with me to polish my poem for publication in spring volume 2! To have come full circle, so to speak, is a testament to the strength of the Saskatchewan writing community, particularly the SWG and Sage Hill, to build its members and supporters. I’m truly blessed to be part of the writing community in this amazing place! And I’m excited to introduce the contributors to spring to you!

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The Dry Valley

I’ll have to start a new page, one entitled, The Dry Valley, because I have recently signed a contract with Radiant Press, a new Regina-based publisher, for the publication of a poetry collection by that name! It will be released in the fall of 2019 and I’ll be touring it as soon as it’s available.

This is the work I produced while serving as the inaugural Writer-in-Residence at the Last Mountain Lake Cultural Centre in Regina Beach and with the support of the Saskatchewan Arts Board. I’m looking forward to sharing it with the world!


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right the earth: a creativity intensive

It was a challenging winter; my father passed on at the Winter Solstice. It was a sudden and unexpected loss that touched me more deeply than most anything in my life ever has. My family and friends helped me through the most difficult places and I’m grateful for the love that surrounded me and my extended family. Dad was a good man. I was blessed to know him as a father and I will always miss his presence. Though I’ve been unable to write about the loss, I have been healing and keeping busy.

Earlier this year, Radiant Press offered to publish my second collection of poetry! I was thrilled to accept! And so, The Dry Valley is forthcoming, September 2019.  I have started planning visits across the country to celebrate. Please contact me or my publisher for  opportunities.

On April 7th, I’m leading a workshop about writing Memoir at the George Bothwell branch of the Regina Public Library. The workshop filled last week so I may offer it this summer or fall.

right the earth posterIn the meantime, on April 21, consider attending right the earth, an afternoon’s immersion in the arts. It’s open to anyone interested in renewing, beginning, or developing their creative practice. It’s also an invitation to honour Earth Day by connecting your passion and compassion for our planet to a guided exploration in creative expression. And, it’s an opportunity to place your creative energy into work with text and textiles, music and movement, doodles and drawings, graphics and more.

No experience necessary but pre-registration is required. To register: Click here.


Finally, on April 26th, the 32nd anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, I’ll read from a new manuscript of work, Unclear Future, at Mitzu Sweet Cafe & Sushi in Moose Jaw, thanks to an invitation from the Saskatchewan Festival of Words’ Performers’ Cafe monthly reading series.

Thanks for clicking in.

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SaskBooks Publishing Symposium

I’m a little nervous that the folks at SaskBooks have me billed as a “Touring Author Extraordinaire,” but I’m grateful to be asked to speak about my experience of touring This hot place to many places in Saskatchewan and across the country. I’m still selling copies of it here and there.  More recently, I have been selling copies of the anthology, Absent Mothers (Demeter Press), in which a short prose piece I wrote is published.

Coming up in October is a short workshop at the Sask Cultural Exchange Society and a reading and Creative NonFiction workshop in Prince Albert.

And the tomatoes continue to ripen.

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Check out “Writing Project: Unclear Future”

Check out “Writing Project: Unclear Future” on Indiegogo http://igg.me/at/UnclearFuture/shre/6589103

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Variations on December 6

​On December 6, 1989, I was a newlywed, taking a couple of classes, on my way out of organizing on campus for the U of R Women’s Centre and moving into organizing provincially as a Board member for the Sask Action Committee Status of Women. I had attended a few  national students’ and women’s conferences and remember feeling  energized by the good work we were doing. 

What I remember from that day in 1989 is standing on the ugly brown carpet in the living room of our beautiful suite in the Modern Apartment building, holding the handle of our beige rotary dial phone to my head, talking to someone at the campus Women’s Centre on the other end, and inviting the Collective over to talk. Some did, though I’m sorry I don’t remember who. Maybe Angela? Nancy? Heather? 

Two years later, my infant daughter had been in my arms for a few months. She’d nursed during Cabinet and Opposition lobby sessions and more than a couple of meetings of feminists. She’d been in my arms as I spoke on behalf of SACSW at news conferences and various events. That year I remember an ache of mother-fear, something I’d never experienced in quite the same way before that day. It crept through me as I wondered what she might face when she attended university. 
By 2014 that baby was a young woman studying at uOttawa. Mother-fear again arose in in horrific way during the crisis on Parliament Hill. A lone gunman ran through security. Media reports were sketchy. All I heard was that a gunman was on the loose in Ottawa. Never was I ever so happy to receive her text message informing me that the university was also locked down and she was safe in the library. But we worried about the safety of our friends who worked on the Hill, where she had worked during her first year at university. 

This spring, as I mentioned in a previous post, we visited our daughter in Japan. With her and our son, my husband and I  travelled to Hiroshima, the city the US bombed on August 6, 1945. When we stood before the A-Bomb Dome, a shell of the building that had once stood there, I literally shook with the horror of what had been done. Later, inside the Peace Memorial Museum I wept quietly as I looked at the many items on exhibit. A child’s partially burnt-out garment ended my time there. I collapsed onto a bench, shaking but trying not to, until I got myself together enough to leave that room for something, anything, else.  

Last month the world witnessed the brutality of a militarized police force against a large peaceful gathering of Indigenous people at Standing Rock in North Dakota. That gathering took place because the women of the Sioux Nation, following in the spiritual paths of their ancestors, heard the call to protect the Sacred, to stop the pipeline that risked doing great harm to the water supply for their reservation and millions of others downstream. And, they took a stand. They would protect the water, as they had been taught.  Others heard their call, hundreds and thousands more around the globe heard.  And responded. Eventually, the  Army Corps of Engineers denied the permit the Dakota Access PipeLine required to dig under the river. 

I don’t think I have felt the pain of remembering December 6, 1989 so deeply as I did when my daughter was an infant. Until this year, that is. It’s been a shaking, weepy day. It must be a core wounding, I’ve decided, one that will need nurturing for a long time to come. It’s a wounding to the psyche of women in this country, to Canada. 

Still, in this moment, feeling as forlorn and grief-stricken as I do, I cannot fathom the great pain and intergenerational trauma experienced by the people of Japan and of Indigenous people of Canada. How can North America live with itself? How can I, knowing what I know, feeling what I feel, live with this? 
Thus far, I’ve been able to mourn and cry, write and organize, heal and love.  And remember. And tonight I will gather with friends and we will together mourn and remember

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Dear Samantha Nock,

I appreciate your contribution to the CanLit narrative that’s developed as a result of events at UBC.  Your open letter to Joseph Boyden moved me to tears.  I didn’t really want to follow the  debacle.  I’ve been busy with my own life, purposefully removing myself from everything I could to focus on my creative work this year.  But I couldn’t escape it.  I’m grateful my daughter posted your letter on Facebook.

To be honest, I usually pay little attention to universities.  I think I’ve written them off as ivory towers divorced from the grassroots, where I live and work.  That said, there are some I know who have done and are doing important things within the oppressive place.  Women, for example, have ensured that collective agreements and institutional policies are in place to address issues, such as this one, when they arise. Still, universities are imperfect institutions.  How could they not be?  They’re operated by imperfect humans working in stress-filled environments on too little money.  It doesn’t surprise me that situations are handled inappropriately even when policies and procedures are in place.

I’m also of the #ibelieveher variety, tending to believe women’s stories of abuse. That letter just didn’t fit, for all the reasons you suggest.  Now, it’s possible that the high-profile case of a former CBC employee left me more wounded than I’d thought.  And yes, I’ll readily admit to a degree of jadedness from my decades of feminist activism.  And, yes, yes, the whole thing rekindled memories of the abuses I’ve experienced at the hands of men.  But I’m a survivor who’s made her way through the pain, continually spiraling inward to shed more light, and then back out as I heal and write, edit and polish, and eventually, publish.  No decision about my work has been more difficult than whether or not to include a rape poem in my collection of poetry.

And so, my heart goes out to all the women who have been touched by this case.  As a white woman in a heterosexual relationship, I have the privilege of calling up a healer and being treated at my convenience.  I want everyone to find whatever it is they need to heal — be that their anger and rage, a community of love and support, a special friend or healer.  I hope you, Samantha, get the apology you request.  Perhaps this meagre response can help with that.

Thanks again for  your inspiration.


Bernadette Wagner
Author, Editor, Activist
aka thereginamom


Filed under Activism, CanLit, Poetry

Premiere: 27.10.16 TWO WEEKS IN JAPAN: More Than A Family Vacation

As I’d hoped, the Last Mountain Lake Cultural Centre in Regina Beach will host the premiere of TWO WEEKS IN JAPAN: More Than A Family Vacation! Please join me there at 7:00 pm on Thursday, October 27.


What began as an idea for an essay about a family trip to visit our daughter in Japan morphed into an  interdisciplinary, multimedia memoir project, a mashup of photographs, songs, websites, essays, rants, family stories, poems, peace politics, anecdotes, and archival data that speak to a range of social, political, and cultural issues. A Q&A will follow the presentation. Refreshments will be available.

Bonus: Carol Daniels, on hand drum, and Sandra Topinka, on singing bowls, will join me at points during the presentation.  I met these multi-talented women during my term as writer-in-residence at the Centre and appreciate their participation.

This is a free event organized by the Last Mountain Lake Cultural Centre with the support of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild Author Readings program.



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Oh, I had a great #summerofwriting! I wrote some, edited a bit, and gardened a lot. Now, the golden-orange, red glory of autumn is here.  And, I joined a book club!

The Saskatchewan Writers Guild, in partnership with Knox Metropolitan United Church (Knox Met) in Regina and Turning the Tide Books in Saskatoon, started Unsettling Ideas: A book club. From the Facebook link:

Unsettling Ideas is a book club aimed at creating discourse, generating ideas and raising awareness to the 94 Calls to Action … from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

My kind of club! I hear the Calls to Action (pdf) from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and need to respond and to do so in community.  Lasting change happens when more than one person takes it on.  Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has (attributed to Margaret Mead).  Unsettling Ideas is that group.  We’ll meet monthly from September to June to discuss a book by an Indigenous writer and hear from a guest speaker who will help the group engage with the work itself, the particular call to action, and broader themes of decolonization and reconciliation.

The response was greater than organizers anticipated, which is a great problem to have so far as problems go, anyway.  While they ensured copies of the book were available, planned an event, and worked through the logistics of sharing it out to communities of interest all over the province, we read the September book,  The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir (U of R Press, 2014) by Joseph Auguste Merasty, edited by David Carpenter.  They chose it to pair with TRC Call to Action #59:

We call upon the church parties to the Settlement Agreement to develop ongoing education strategies to ensure that their respective congregations learn about their church’s role in colonization, the history and legacy of residential schools, and why apologies to former residential school students, their families, and communities were necessary.

We met at Noni’s, a cafe in downtown Regina, with a camera feed running through Facebook Live while Jamie Lerat and Sarah Longman delivered their presentation and facilitated discussion afterward.  Jamie works as the Strategic Advisor on First Nations and Metis Education at the Saskatchewan School Boards Association and regularly meets with two First Nations Elders.  Sarah is an educator working to make the education system accessible and successful for Aboriginal people and she facilitates the Blanket Exercise with students, teachers, principals, and the community.  They provided a gentle entry into the book and related it to their lives as Indigenous people. The points I’ve taken away are:

  • Residential schools created an intergenerational trauma that’s still being felt today;
  • There are historical gaps that experiences such as those described in this book begin to fill and that many people did not learn about during their schooling;
  • Some parents may have difficulty with this book being in the schools but an Elder, when asked about it said, “It happened to children;”
  • Generations of silence have grown up around the residential school abuses.  Many did not \ can not talk about their trauma;
  • There is resiliency in a people who have been brainwashed, psychologically, and sexually abused.  That resiliency is key to healing.

It was a powerful presentation.  And the discussion was very good, but we didn’t have time to really delve into the literary aspects of this book, so I welcome more discussion about that.  I’m thinking particularly about “survivor stories” which this book definitely is, but different from Elly Danica’s, Don’t: A Woman’s Word, for example.  And I’m thinking about memoir in general and how this book adds so much to that genre but also to our historical record, a much-needed addition.

Thank you, Nickita Longman, Cam Fraser, and Peter Garden, for making this book club happen.  Looking forward to the next read.

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