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“this distant shore…”

This month, we’re delighted to again present the beautiful work of poet Mia Ayumi Malhotra. There is a sweet concoction of remembering, longing, and holding space for moments to recall from the past, “the lost…,” or to save for the future. What a wondrous way to get us leaning into summer and inspired to write as the season opens us up toward the next chapter…enjoy!

— traci kato-kiriyama

* * * * *

Photo: Kindred

Mia Ayumi Malhotra is the author of Mothersalt (forthcoming 2025) and Isako Isako, California Book Award finalist and winner of the Nautilus Gold Award, Alice James Award, National Indie Excellence Award, and Maine Literary Award. Her chapbook Notes from the Birth Year won the Bateau Press BOOM Contest, and her work has been recognized internationally with the Hawker Prize for Southeast Asian Poetry and the Singapore Poetry Prize. She is a Kundiman Fellow and founding member of The Ruby SF, a gathering space for women and nonbinary artists.

 

Poem for When You Want to Remember

How the days passed, suffused in summer
light, your curiosity caught by every clover-
filled crack in the sidewalk, every brick

alcove in the parking lot, where I said
now be a duckling! and you fell in line
behind me, quacking, every moment,

a bright Bonita peach, bitten and dripping
down the chin, because soon our family
would be four, not three—for you, age two,

an uncertain concept, four fingers lifted
to mean possibility beyond measure, which
is how I felt, too, soaked in the sweetness

of our play, make-believe in the backyard.
Unlike two, which we’d mastered, or three,
a flight you felt coming, claimed each time

you reached farther, higher, whenever
we swung you, one—two—three! into the air,
sandals flying in the face of the unknown.

I can’t know, you used to say, which was
more true than you knew, each number
counted to its end, our life just begun.

*This poem was first published in SWWIM Every Day in April 2018.


Letter to My Daughter

Because the time will come when the sky turns
               to umber. If we’re lucky, there will be poems
and good wine, and someone, looking on,
               will see us seated two rows from the front,
you in a summer dress, me in somber poet
               attire, hair gone to silver—or going that way.
They’ll think, there they are, our bodies together making
               something lovely and altogether necessary:
mother, daughter, like nesting dolls—you, resting
               in my lap, the illusion of a self, split
and refracted in time’s mirror, a trick of generations. 

Even in July, the hours are too short to contain
               all the day’s longing. If only we could stay
like this, faces lifted toward the valley’s rough horizon,
               edges burnt by sunset going too quickly to dusk.
If only I could hold you in the shadow of these
               trees, branches bowed in a cathedral hush,
aisles flickering with tea lights, tapers. I already
               see the girl you’re growing to be, which is why
I’ve imagined you thus, light fading in snatches,
               lamp dimmed until it’s just the face,
glowing faintly, cupped in evening’s palm.

*This poem was first published in Waxwing, Issue XV, Summer 2018.


Pajaro Dunes

The sea’s hungry here, the sand so fine 
               it clings to the face. Clutched in the fist
it spills through, falls away like powder. I’m reading 
               about the schizophrenias. Out here
my mind’s its own kind of wild. We crowd 
               into the car, drive through streets
of what could have been: Haute Enchilada, 
               Hair’s On. A freeze-dry taxidermy place.
My mother murmurs in the front seat.
               Here’s a story of the life I never lived:
sandy loam, strawberry fields, rows of berry 
               brambles and plump-to-bursting tartness.
Seagrass and coastal fog. Sometimes they talked 
               about it—you would have loved her, or 
he would have been your older brother, but mostly 
               there was the sense of a soul slipped off
too soon, lost before it had much life to live. 
               The sea lays a wet stain on my mind.
Where do we go to find our lost? The taiko’s
               measured throb, staccato punctuated
by shouts, the pulse that holds us all—dead, living, 
               lost and found. The surf’s pounding
as my mother chases its spray, kite twirling 
               overhead like a hurt bird through air.
The wind’s swift kick and she’s a child again, 
               hurtling across sand. Your arm remembers 
the feeling, she says. It’s something you never forget
               So true. We’ve been lost before on this
distant shore but still remember our way.  

*This poem was from Notes from the Birth Year (Bateau Press, 2022).

 

© 2018, 2022 Mia Ayumi Malhotra

literature Mia Ayumi Malhotra 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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About the Authors

Mia Ayumi Malhotra is the author of Mothersalt (forthcoming 2025) and Isako Isako, California Book Award finalist and winner of the Nautilus Gold Award, Alice James Award, National Indie Excellence Award, and Maine Literary Award. Her chapbook Notes from the Birth Year won the Bateau Press BOOM Contest, and her work has been recognized internationally with the Hawker Prize for Southeast Asian Poetry and the Singapore Poetry Prize. She is a Kundiman Fellow and founding member of The Ruby SF, a gathering space for women and nonbinary artists. (Profile photo courtesy of Kindred)

Updated June 2023


traci kato-kiriyama is a performer, actor, writer, author, educator, and art+community organizer who splits the time and space in her body feeling grounded in gratitude, inspired by audacity, and thoroughly insane—oft times all at once. She’s passionately invested in a number of projects that include Pull Project (PULL: Tales of Obsession); Generations Of War; The (title-ever-evolving) Nikkei Network for Gender and Sexual Positivity; Kizuna; Budokan of LA; and is the Director/Co-Founder of Tuesday Night Project and Co-Curator of its flagship “Tuesday Night Cafe.” She’s working on a second book of writing/poetry attuned to survival, slated for publication next year by Writ Large Press.

Updated August 2013

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