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Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column

Retracing / Return

This month, we feature the lovely words of LA-based poets, Noriko Nakada and Garrett Kurai.  I've returned to a practice of penning letters, cards, personal messages to be sent by post or out into the ether for recipients I may never actually meet, and when I read through the words of these writers, I thought a lot of the cycle of remembrance and homage...how when we return, in writing, to our memories, we have a new conversation with the past...how there is much to be said in the process of retracing our narrative paths.  Thank you Noriko...Thank you, Garrett, for taking us down a part of your inner roads.  Enjoy...

—traci kato-kiriyama

* * * * * 

Noriko Nakada is a multi-racial Asian American who creates fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and art to capture the hidden stories she has been told not to talk about. She advocates for young people, teachers, women, and non-binary writers to create a more just and equitable world. She is the author of the Through Eyes Like Mine memoir series. Excerpts, essays, and poetry have been published in Hippocampus, Catapult, Linden Ave, and elsewhere. She serves on the leadership team and as blog manager for Women Who Submit: empowering women and nonbinary writers to submit their work for publication.

 

Letter 1

Hey Dad,

I’m writing to you
before
in green coveralls
working a garden with rows perfectly engineered for surface irrigation
or wearing a red, orange, and yellow 70s style ski hat
the one you wore well into the 90s
when you critiqued the world and all of its goings on
with mechanical pencil precision
like the one you kept in your shirt pocket
next to the skinny white worm of a retractable click eraser
tools used to precisely construct and erase:
lists, letters, words, thoughts. 

I am writing to you
now
where you’ve lined the walls with photographs
to help you remember
and the door stays locked for your safety
like when you were locked away
for the safety of this country.
From a room overlooking a mountain that isn’t a mountain.
you reconstruct a world in tidy lines
to keep you from forgetting.
After struggling for a lifetime to unlearn shikata ga nai,
you have resumed acceptance.

You teach me how to surrender,
it cannot be helped
and replace it with gaman:
patience
endurance 


Letter 12

Hey Dad,

I will not be sending you this letter
because I fear that the end of this project
and the end of your life
might intersect
that the end of the pandemic
won’t come before our next visit.

I can’t remember
what we talked about the last time
I saw you in person.

I have never been away from home this long
if home is Oregon:
land of pandemic protests
fire and sacred ash
friends and family
religion and hate.

All of the reasons I stayed/left in the first place.

You know this.

You moved there despite it all
shifting our family’s proximity to whiteness
leaving me to ask myself:
Who are my people?
Where is home?
Questions embedded in my blood.

It might not have mattered
where I was born and raised.
The questions we ask might still be the same:
How is the weather?
When will I see you again?


Letter 14

Hey Dad,

It was so great to see you today
to talk with you face-to-face
even though it was through a screen.

Your haircut looks great
and your smile.
You seem better now
than you have in months.

I love that my kids got to say hi
and your interactions brought us all joy
although I fear we exhaust you.

But then,
just before we hung up
you said goodbye to Kiara
and you said her name, Dad.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard you say
her name before
each syllable bearing its own weight

KI A RA

similar to the way you say

NO RI KO

casting a distant memory
of you
teaching me
how to say
my own name.

*These poems are copyrighted by Noriko Nakada (2021)

 

* * * * *

Garrett Kurai writes about the big sleep and the little death. His poems reside in Carrie Chang’s Lotus Magazine, Monolid, Statement Magazine at California State University at Los Angeles, (Sic) Vice & Verse and speak in the Radio Poetique series on the PennSound University of Pennsylvania website and a forthcoming summer episode of the Skylight Books Podcast. A graduate of New York University's Creative Writing Program, he lives and teaches in his hometown of Los Angeles with his Chicana wife and son. Garrett is the Sansei son of the late, taiko musician and Buddhist abbot, Shuichi Kurai who once worked and performed at JANM. The opening remembrances in Garrett’s poem “The Return” occurred at what may have been the first time taiko was performed at the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage.1 When not wording, he collects a wall of sound and occasionally DJs. His music heroes feature the “R” sound–Robert Wyatt and Rahsaan Roland Kirk–which is the sound of revolution.

Note 1. Deborah Wong. Louder and Faster: Pain, Joy, and the Body Politic in Asian American Taiko. p 109.

 

                                The Return

                      Our buses circle like wagons
                      as the wind blows the Manzanar sand
                      into our Kentucky Fried Chicken.
                      Being the youngest, they choose me
                      to pick out raffle tickets.
                      Peeking through my father's fingers,
                      I cull the name of my grandmother
                      for a prize of toilet paper.

                      The wind dies as we retrace
                      the forgotten barracks and barbed wires.
                      They remind us that good fences make good neighbors.
                      All I find in the dust is a golden bullet shell.

                      Some twenty years later I return,
                      sliding down from a wedding in Independence.
                      We plop out of a rented van
                      into the July heat. This time,
                      I notice the stone shells of buildings
                      like mussels that won’t let go.
                      All that remains of suffering are shells.
                      Maybe if we put them to our ears,
                      we can hear the hell of yesteryear.

Know No Boy

Terrafied, into the ground, then gone.
No where. No how.
Every moment, we flirt with dirt.

Earth is an endzyme biding
to break down the thing that is you.
Know that your devoted dirt is waiting.

Say yes to nothingness
and get up for the get down.
Don’t fuss, dust is us.

*These poems are copyrighted by Garrett Kurai (2021)

 

© 2021 Noriko Nakada; Garrett Kurai

Garrett Kurai Nikkei Uncovered Noriko Nakada 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.