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Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column


Happy 2018, folks! Upon entering a new year, we put forth the theme of “open” to writers Mariko Rooks, a Culver City native who is currently studying at Yale, and Pogo Saito, now based in Nyssa, Oregon. Their pieces here explore critical openings between self and the things we want to let go of or draw nearer - there is challenge and reflection felt throughout...enjoy.

—traci kato-kiriyama

* * * * *

Mariko Fujimoto Rooks is a mixed race Japanese American and African American first-year student at Yale University, where she studies public health. She serves as an Student Coordinator for Yale’s Asian American Cultural Center and an Executive Board Member for Yale's Black Solidarity Conference. A native of Culver City, California, Mariko served as a panelist at the Smithsonian’s 2016 National Youth Summit at the Japanese American National Museum. She is also a longtime participant and counselor for the Japanese American youth leadership organization Kizuna. In her spare time, she plays water polo for Yale's intercollegiate club team.

A little bit about this piece:

My maternal grandparents both suffer from advanced Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. My mother has spent most of her life taking care of them: a difficult, painful, and often thankless task that prevents my mother from being as present in my life as I know she wants to be. As a child, I often resented this. While I love my grandparents, it is hard not to see them as barriers between my mother and myself, as obstacles to our family's happiness. It wasn’t until recently that I really, really looked at my grandmother, and finally opened myself up to seeing her as a person rather than an extension of my own wants and needs. Here is what I saw.

My grandmother puts on makeup Every morning

I've looked into my grandmother’s face
a thousand times
but I’ve only just seen
the need that is buried in her eyes.

a tantalus borne not of a dark god’s underworld
but of the death delivered on the wings
of american bombers
raining their cargo on kumamoto rice paddies
trapping an american citizen
in a foreign land

filled with strangers
wearing her face.

nothing will ever be enough to fill her.
not love, not children, not the big house in orange county
near the money families and their horses.

it’s just water
trickling through cracked brown hands
before it reaches a parched mouth. But she tries to drink anyways.

Can’t help but drink anyways.

sanity held together by
and spider web threads
and ice that shatters
and cracks
when danced upon.

* This poem is copyrighted by Mariko Fujimoto Rooks (2013/2018)


* * * * *

Pogo Saito, a Sansei, recently re-transplanted to Nyssa, Oregon, home to a large population of Nikkei who settled there after the war due to one lone person who hired Japanese after the war. It is a place ripe with stories. Pogo is a performer, writer and visual artist who spent 18 years as a touring storyteller with the Los Angeles based We Tell Stories and is an Associate Artist with Theater Movement Bazaar. Ms. Saito was honored by The Pacificus Foundation for her plays and poems and was most recently published in The Coiled Serpent anthology of Los Angeles Poets.

Walking To get Some Onions

Walking To get Some Onions
Hazy afternoon.

Have you ever walked three empty fields
To pick fresh onions
From family soil?

Well, you should.

I pass through the ghost of
A potato field
Vines turned to ash
On talcum powder
Blackened lines of harvest history.
Remember echos of childhood.

Have you ever played army guys
On 500 acres of corrugated soil
Abundance of
Fox holes?

Well, you should.

I remember regular fights with my cousin
Over who had to be the
White guys.
In our war, Japan always wins.

Have you ever re-written history for your own amusement?

Well, you should.

Walking To get Some Onions
Hazy afternoon.

Have you ever seen a dog chase
His first pheasant?
Grinning hound in hopeless

Surprised at his own instinct?
Well, you should.
You really should.

Take the time to stray from the path
Walk the earth
Reach down
Pull out
Dinner From Mother Earth.

Notice the present
Feel the past
Enjoy all the moments,

Well, you should.

* This poem is copyrighted by Pogo Saito (2011)


I’ve never done it, but I’m pretty sure heroin is a lot like you
Injected or smoked, it obliviates time through exploding senses
The only reality is the high of the high
When I’m high with you, Heroin, I never want it to end
I lie to my friends about my addiction
I am ashamed of how helpless I am

High and low, over and over
High and high and higher
I kill the memory of the lesson I should be learning
Until I get so low
The only track marks are lines of bad poetry spoken over and over and over
I’m like a performance cutter
A bloody stream of flowing wires lets out what I can't seem to say to your face
Goodbye And mean it

You look at me like a dirty needle, one unblinking, unseeing cold metallic eye
You sit and watch and wait for me to pick you up again
I always do

I used to think you were a habit, a bad but manageable habit
One I could just kick under a rug and go about my life
Stealthy junkie
Just another person on the subway with a little secret something behind the sudoku

I used to joke about being addicted to you
But now the joke’s on me
The saddest f*cking punchline, punching myself in the face
Sad-Sack, monkey on my back, moving my things here and back
And the needle watches and smiles it’s cold metallic smile
Razor doing yoga
Namaste Etu, Brute

Each day i have to talk myself down, hold myself back
Tie off my heart
One day at a time is easy, it’s the long cold nights that are hard, hard, hard
Dim light makes the needle a romantic sort of roman candle
Late hour amnesia is an aphrodisiac
Lets me let me forget your cruelty

Let’s get this straight
I make this stupid circle
I slap my own face
I con myself with the same old pitch and moan
Selling myself the same lemon and driving myself insane

What will it take until I stop walking backwards through your door

I’ve tried overdosing
Chasing a sweaty sort of Xanadu
I live the way it feels, killing myself exquisitely, drop by drop
There is no coin to dangle that makes sobriety valuable
Except a little self respect
And this crazy idea that I deserve some kindness

So I take it night by night
Each night, I say
Goodbye Heroin, Goodbye beautiful, terrible high

* This poem is copyrighted by Pogo Saito (2016)


© 2013/2018 Mariko Rooks; © 2011, 2016 Pogo Saito

Nikkei Uncovered Open poet poetry

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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