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Issei Spirits

rattling rice cooker
gohan steaming
issei ghost escape
spirits rise
just in time
to wash up for dinner

come and join me, old-timer
there’s boiled squid—shoyu sato
and aunty’s takuan
and if you like, tamago gohan

let this yonsei steam you a fish
ginger, green onions, sesame oil
taught to me by a Chinese buddy

Nihonmachi has changed ojisan
no more pool halls or china meshi
and poor Weller Street
has been swallowed up
by a monster named Kajima

so tell me the truth
did you really set plantation fires
and block home plate
in dusty lots of Yakima, Wahington?
Did you march to free Tom Mooney?
Oh, and tell me about
the L.A. Japanese
Restaurant Workers Union in 1930s
because J-Town could sure use one now.

You know, I thought I saw you
as I marched with 100,000 others
down old Brooklyn Avenue
in Boyle Heights
united for immigrant rights
against Prop 187

it was October of ’94
and dozens of you Issei
were cheering us on
from the walls
of Evergreen cemetery
passing out musubi and NiHis
and making our feet light

So eat up
don’t enryo
rest and enjoy yourself
but please,
you have to tell me
where you’ve been
and what you’ve seen

I’ve got all night


* Originally published in The Rafu Shimpo on November 18, 1997.


© 1997 Tony Osumi

activism food issei nihonmachi poem poetry yonsei