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  • Hemispheres of Influence
  • John Ridland (bio)

Truman at Potsdam, 1945


Churchill and Stalin both sleep late. Truman’s up and dressed by six,

eager to get to work at eight, which they do, Churchill, “woolly and verbose,”

Stalin not: “Let’s divide the German fleet.” Churchill: “Weapons of war

are horrible things.” “If Mr. Churchill wishes, he can sink his share,” said Uncle Joe––

(Truman tried that genial Uncle Joe only once on the Generalissimo. No go.)

Back to business dividing up the globe into hemispheres of influence.

Lunch. And Truman went upstairs to take a nap. When he came down,

a message was waiting: “Little Boy born, as husky as his big brother.”

That was code that the first atomic bomb had exploded at Alamogordo (“Fat Poplar Tree”).

Uncle Joe didn’t seem to care at all. Why would he? Fuchs, his mole, [End Page 588]

had been there to tell him all he needed to know. The War Is Dead! Long Live the Cold War! Stalin said

in his head. And news that Churchill had gone down in his election flew from London

straight and sharp as an arrow through the window to stick, quivering,

in the conference table, bearing Aneurin Bevan, a wide man, and Clement Attlee, a narrow,

on its shaft. Both of them were “sourpusses,” Truman wrote to Margaret, his singing daughter.

At the same time, over Tokyo, leaflets dictating terms for Japan’s unconditional surrender

fluttered down like early autumn leaves from a plum tree: melancholy haiku.

Prime Minister Suzuki ignored what he read. He would kill it with silence, he said,

leaving Truman to break the silence: Hiroshima––Boom! Nagasaki––Boom!

The world war would be over. What a nap! Funny how much can happen while you sleep.


Their thirteenth session was the last. Poland had been sliced up, and the rest

occupied by the Soviets were theirs, for keeps de facto, for forty-four years [End Page 589]

before their leases ran out. The Big Three parted. Truman wholeheartedly

hoped they would meet in Washington next–– “God willing,” added the World’s Biggest Atheist.

God wasn’t willing. Stalin back home told Khrushchev, “Truman was worthless.”

Years later––twelve––Truman conceded he’d been naïf, an Innocent Abroad

at Potsdam. By then he knew what Stalin was: “the unconscionable Russian Dictator”––yet,

honest as Bunyan’s Christian, Truman admitted, “And I liked the little son-of-a-bitch.”


—The Orchestra by Dan Lutz, 1931 The first violin is drawing a very long bow; It stretches from below his knee to the tip of his nose.

The conductor stands on a single shoe That shines at the toe like a tippler’s nose.

The flautist appears to be playing the flute through his nose The middle bassist has red eyebrows and no nose––

A defect in most of the players in this band, or Didn’t Lutz know how to paint noses? Who knows? [End Page 590]

But, no, the white-faced cellist with the mellow yellow Cello at least has nostrils if not a nose.

Welcome to 1931! We are Modernists all, Even as the Great Depression drops us into a nose- Dive. [End Page 591]

John Ridland

John Ridland, author of many books, is retired after more than four decades teaching at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His poems have appeared in the Formalist, the Hudson Review, and Quadrant.



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