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Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column


Happy 2017, everyone! With quite the gripping year behind us, I find myself needing to look ahead from a grounded place and in order to do so, I look to all kinds of conversations and all forms of art. To fill up on inspiration, in the way we filled up on delicious food at my mother’s home on New Years Day, is how I’ve chosen to begin this January. As we celebrated the beginning of Nikkei Uncovered with Nisei poet Hiroshi Kashiwagi and Sansei poet Amy Uyematsu as our inaugural poets to the column, I am happy to highlight a younger voice with a piece by Sean Miura, a Yonsei artist and community organizer based here in Los Angeles. We are also excited to have two pieces by Mari L’Esperance, who describes herself as a “Hafu poet living in the SF East Bay.” Their pieces offer us ways to consider our roots, our grounding, our particular perspectives, our ways of growing, our starting place. Enjoy.

—traci kato-kiriyama

* * * * *

Mari L’Esperance was born in Kobe, Japan, to a Japanese mother and a European­ American father and raised in Southern California, Guam, and Japan. She is the author of The Darkened Temple (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and the chapbook Begin Here (Sarasota Poetry Theatre Press, 2000). L’Esperance co­edited Coming Close: Forty Essays on Philip Levine (Prairie Lights Books, 2013) with Tomás Q. Morín. Her poems and prose have most recently been published at The Margins at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, Best American Poetry blog, MiPOesis, Kyoto Journal, and Mixed Roots Stories. A graduate of the Creative Writing Program at New York University and the recipient of awards from the New York Times, NYU, Djerassi Resident Artists Program, Hedgebrook, and Dorland Mountain Arts Colony, L’Esperance lives in the Bay Area.

after seven paintings by Fuyuko Matsui

Ringed tracery
on the lake’s face
is what you saw,
but you were wrong
to assume. Forgive me,

but drowning’s not
my thing. While
you knelt in the weeds,
weeping, I slipped
through the trees. Here

I recede to dun, beetles
and leaf mold
my familiars. Here
I take my leave, my Bereaved.
My Afflictions.


In blue-black woods,
it appeared to me, cold
and primordial.

Dear Other, Dear Shadow,
I’m done for—a tracery
in red on black.


All’s not what it seems.
There’s a story here:
ghost of my brother fled
in my stead, our
mother mere memory—


There’s a story here:
tracery of hair snared
in the branches—black
branches lacing the air—

dank odor of lake water,
scrap of song wafting
across the sound
from Sado-ga-shima—


Deliver me, wind
in the pines—pitch
of night birds—

Deliver me, white
Narcissus spent to ash.

I’m undone.
I’ll never come clean.

*Originally published at A Poetry Congeries with John Hoppenthaler
Connotation Press: An Online Artifact in September 2013
and copyrighted by Mari L'Esperance.

Kobe – March 2014

Pale buds verge on breaking open

            on the cherry trees lining the river as my heart—petal

                        by petal—unfolds to behold the hills of my earliest life.


I arrived in darkness, the sleeping streets muffled

            by soft rain. All night I heard the dead

                        trawling the harbor where my mother and I set sail,


years ago, for that far shore—a woman and her infant

            in a fever, the sea a restless bed beneath us, moon

                        slung low in a nimbus of ash: we made our crossing.


Now I have returned to walk in morning’s magnolia light,

            spring sun pouring over Rokko Mountain where hawks float

                        on updrafts and the clear river sings our losses. One


by one, we return to our first shore, carrying our stories with us.


Note: Ohigan literally translates as “the other shore.” Most Buddhist temples throughout Japan hold ohigan ceremonies during spring and autumnal equinoxes to express gratitude for being awakened to wisdom and compassion.

*Originally published online at MiPOesias, edited by Emma Trelles,
in October 2014 and copyrighted by Mari L’Esperance.

* * * * *

Sean Miura is a Los Angeles-based Yonsei writer and artist. He is the producer/curator of Little Tokyo’s Tuesday Night Cafe, a free Asian American art series.



This is where we start

As we’ve always started before

This is where we affirm connection to a past, a present
This is where we commit to a future, a vision

This is where we take the sum of our parts and consider a whole
This is where we explore the twists and edges of barbed wire
Or not
Or Saturday school
Or not
Or sweet black beans on New Year’s Day
Or foreign middle names
Or adopted first ones
Or time traveling diaries
Or summers grounded in Narita
Or the sound of our grandparents as they stand up
Or the smell of fishing trips
Or the feeling of solitude, betrayal
Or connection to all of the above
Or refusal to connect the dots
Or not

This is where we start

By disputing common threads
And questioning diasporic responsibility

This is where we start

By examining the borders of our eyebrows and considering the tint of our eyes

This is where we start

By naming the sad euphoria we feel during twilight
The twist of our gut when we hear certain chord progressions
The anger
Or joy
Or warmth
What’s the word
What’s the word

This is where our dictionaries converge
Where the “or”s stake the ground
Where we generalize through specificity

This is the start

This is a start.

* This poem is copyrighted by Sean Miura (2017).


© 2017 Sean Miura; © 2013 & 2014 Mari L'Esperance

identity japanese american Mari L'Esperance poet poetry roots Sean Miura

About this series

Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column is a space for the Nikkei community to share stories through diverse writings on culture, history, and personal experience. The column will feature a wide variety of poetic form and subject matter with themes that include history, roots, identity; history—past into the present; food as ritual, celebration, and legacy; ritual and assumptions of tradition; place, location, and community; and love.

We’ve invited author, performer, and poet traci kato-kiriyama to curate this monthly poetry column, where we will publish one to two poets on the third Thursday of each month—from senior or young writers new to poetry, to published authors from around the country. We hope to uncover a web of voices linked through myriad differences and connected experience.

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