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Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column

Transformation

Nothing like biting into the palpable words of poets to dig into the transformation that signifies this season. I had a great time reading the work of the writers we feature here this month on Nikkei Uncovered—Colorado-based Brandon Shimoda and Minneapolis-based Emily Mitamura. Lush and sinuous, resilient and expansive—from Emily’s Grub Mother—“…a bit of / your heart / is the most delicious sweet / I’ve ever held / to my / swarming mouth…”—and  from Brandon’s The Desert—“…The world / above, the world we think we love is / scar tissue”—we invite you to dig in, latch on with your memory's teeth, take large bites.  Enjoy...

—traci kato-kiriyama

* * * * *

Brandon Shimoda is a yonsei poet/writer, and the author most recently of The Grave on the Wall (City Lights, 2019), which received the PEN Open Book Award. He has two books forthcoming: Hydra Medusa (poetry and prose, forthcoming from Nightboat Books) and a book on the afterlife of Japanese American incarceration, which received a Creative Nonfiction grant from the Whiting Foundation. He is also the curator of the Hiroshima Library, an itinerant reading room/collection of books on the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which was on display at the Japanese American National Museum from 2019-2021, and is currently on display at Counterpath, in Denver, CO.

 

Dementia

Is dementia like not being able to remember
a dream

you know you had 
when you woke up

There was a peach-colored bar of light
beneath the door

The door floated above day
The desert was one room away

The Hour of the Rat

The bubble on the ceiling
became a jellyfish   bruise

turned into cola

jellyfish
c.

rained down
jade

The jellyfish rained  
The jellyfish threw themselves
towards the skin of space

with faces waiting
to see the face

through which the jellyfish expelled
the modest dynamite

When you are my age, I will be 80
or I will be dead,

hardened, without heavens,

I will not see your face age
denatured to the fallen sutra.

 
The Hour of the Rat

A soul returns
to the forehead of a mother

who let it be human, who mended it

as if it was human, who cared for it
when it realized being human
was destruction


The Desert

To sink through the ground of America
is to meet the legions
who have been buried   fall through them  

lapse   underground, 

commingle, in its original arrangement,   The world

above, the world we think we love is
scar tissue

*These poems are copyrighted by Brandon Shimoda (2021)

 

* * * * *

Emily Mitamura is a Yonsei poet and PhD student living in Minnesota. Her work considers the performative and narrative demands placed on those in the wake of ongoing colonial violence and continuous bodily/relational/ archival hauntings. Her poems have appeared in The Margins, Clarion Magazine, AADOREE, and Black Heart Magazine among other places.

 

GRUB MOTHER

    toss me back to my body where   I’ve grown a woman, a mother
    how literal this statement is   depends on the time of month
    or perhaps on the cheek of a persimmon         dried and sugared like
    your love made every year at the heat   strings of powdery heads
        wafting in the yard
    it might be like that too   sweet sweet but         home too to toothy grubs-
    it can be like that

              a question of swarm at the heart

    you kept these persimmons in ziplocks         cellotaped soft as a heart
    or a hunger, and warm to the touch even         after you
        changed planes, mothered
    an afternoon of your lack. please don’t         do it again. grub
    a noontime so it can be like that, swarming with loved ones’ mouths
    open to the sweet       fists full of fruits and twine by the yard
    so we can grow another day together, persimmon-like: 

    acrid to the tongue a found sip of sun I learned from you to
        more than like
    the bitter portending sweet I know to take by the teeth   and
        fruit a heart
    to hold       how you’ve been gone much       longer than you’ve had
        pale feet
    in the gravel outside my bedroom window, step sounding applause or
        the sea, spring mother
    to us all. it shouldn’t be like that then, the figs full     of sleeping moths -
    our grief for ourselves is its own kind of womb     its own kind of
        nourishing grub


    but sometimes it is like   you find a persimmon, candied in its own age in
        your grub-
    mother’s nest, the cellophane hoard         shored up reserve alight alike
    against the rot.       loss is like that, a gathering to the bones - process
        to keep months
    passed as preserve: a sweet fruit, a down jacket in desert night, a heart
    swift as it is closed like a fist       to you. but wants set in motion other wants, mother
    desire already growing fruiting decaying   it shouldn’t be like that maybe
but it is, you are
a garden

    of want, a mother of fruits and grubs that hunger. please don’t         leave
        us to the yard
    wafting. a persimmon death is just a death   that makes the concept
        flower and grubs
    weep. he knew this when he saved them and     you for us, mothered
    your living      on. swarming, your chest full of grubby growths in wait for
    your mind gnawed at               and holy to me still.   a bite of your heart
    is the most delicious sweet     I’ve ever held     to my swarming mouth

    but from you I never learned the process of           preservation- what’s
        the time of the month
    to give of yourself to transformation, what’s the time. to grow
        persimmons in the yard
    is an act of gestation          plots keep a family       and you       dried heart-
    fruits in the sun, gave womb to our knowing, fed us grubs
    like we were your own ghosts, your own pale lurking fruits, your
        own swarm
    your own - i’m not sure now if it’s like that,
                                               if i came of age eating persimmons or   
                                                       the age of persimmons is over and you stay

                                                                                                        grub-mother

    to us all.           maybe it’s that you hit me with a persimmon the size of a fist or a grub

    maybe it’s that you’re there every day
            to toss a body like
                        a seed          back         

    to its mother-plane to ground,      to fruit

 *This poem is copyrighted by Emily Mitamura (2021)

 

© 2021 Brandon Shimoda; @2021 Emily Mitamura

Brandon Shimoda Emily Mitamura Nikkei Uncovered 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.