GILA RIVER

for Yoshiko Kanazawa

 

The prisoners lived for many years—
had children  grandchildren great-grandchildren

burned  very quietly
to ash,



cut rectangles in the floor  dug holes in the dirt
to stay cool
in July  folded their bodies
like paper  fell asleep
in the holes  rivers evaporated. The prisoners disintegrated
Not even their secrets



Japanese Americans were not looking at themselves
turning white
not the cotton  not the descendants of bloodless cotton
the children’s fathers refused to pick

Children were shy  had stories to tell,
not their own, but those not resolved, still dirty



a nisei woman was asked if she would like to speak, share her story
the people  facing the gleaming snow
looked sad, for a moment,   then vulturous. sad again

expectant, ready to ascend.

The nisei woman shook her head,  No, she said.
Are you sure, she was asked.
I don’t remember enough
to share  She said
As she was looking through the snow  She remembered everything
but could not, seven decades later, associate herself with the subjects



When the children arrived, there were turtles Snapping turtles
like helmets  greeted the children
Turtles deep
deep deep
in the ditches, slowly rose  and snapped at the children
like Yoshiko,  wearing a dress  of her mother’s crumpled face,
walked right up to the ditch
and peered in:

children were grabbed, pulled in, became turtles

How could she forget
the turtles were the solace of America


You don’t forget  You are tricked,
into putting your hand in
mirror-green water. Your hand stays stuck

you stop looking



eyes were olives. Children were torches

One of each twin drowned
or burned down
to the dirt
where grandparents  on their hands and knees
re-enacted the rose, the thorn



Long hair dangled
over water  seasons stretched
camouflage nets
across the suburbs. shotgun shells  spoons, heels of shoes,
talons, forked tongues, arrow-tipped tails,
the wake of a temple
men sitting beneath spiraling flowers



mother was very popular
with the ghosts
that grew out of the ditches  they were soldiers
deep into the harmony of their hunger



Children sat on the hill
watched the desert changing colors  the stars
lower
on tendons

movies smelled  Carcasses came out

to narrate the silences

some sank into the cold, impenetrable shrapnel
fallen from tens of thousands of miles



only children remember to forget
with such warm innocence  being struck
by the sun
not innocence Guilt
not the opposite of innocence  But
like the dissolution of a flower into fruit,
compensation
and the will to be stolen



Noriyuki was eleven, had spinal TB
when he was incarcerated as an enemy of the United States  His body was cut
from the cast  and propped up
in front of the moving mirage  Noriyuki,
better
or worse known as
Mr. Miyagi, for whom Noriyuki put on the accent
of an immigrant from Okinawa

His inscrutability was part of the trick  the coming into consciousness
of a Japanese man
who had no one  war extinguished
Truth,   the country trained him
to be someone else,   not other, but native
by pretending to be someone else,  not native, but foreign

He stood in the bush
until the bush became ice

When Mr. Miyagi gets drunk  and relives the war
are we not supposed to imagine Noriyuki, the actor,
summoning the memory
of the war he was living
as a child  prisoner

is that misunderstanding
or a misunderstanding



Did you have anyone in the 442nd
No, I said,  My ancestors are not corpses
propped upright in the corner
My ancestors do not stand in cold rooms in the dark  draped with lights
round cancerous  in which my face is warped  waiting
to be turned on  dance in the window



From afar  incarceration looks like internment

It is always day
No  Japanese Americans exist
at night  The river is full  Japanese Americans gather
in the sundown  on the banks of the abundant river
to pay respects
to the primal thinking
of white men and women,  distant, futuristic
summer  or winter
or walking down the reservation



wild animals raised their heads  land stretched away
The further away from the train
the less it moved

children watched their parents’ faces
framed in squares
and rectangles of light  seam of stars,
then dark,
then darkness

Did it feel like travel? guarantee of returning?
Their movements were curtailed. sound was rhythmic suture.
Dreams of the wheels slipping off

wild animals moved fast. in the shadows of rocks:

I will see you
again. incriminated
by the sadness
of someone else’s dream

without ending  migration becomes internal
for those who do not leave
keep the memory leaving

de-located,

migration was a test. the destination was the extent to which
a soul could be transformed. The United States wanted to replace
with a clock,



the furnace of assimilation. earth harbors
unintelligible tongues
in the core,  tongues of flame, they are called,
the earth answers
with its cavernous body, I release you
into the custody of culture  The toll is paid
by the enslaved,
exploited, exterminated



How did it feel to be surrounded by Japanese Americans
with whom you were not  related?  Prison
is prolongation  I felt like
I was standing in
a graveyard  waiting for the sun
to pass into eclipse  for the light to christen
what was buried beneath
the long, ship-like passage of shadow

I don’t remember the way you remember
I don’t remember a prison, but Easter
I don’t remember which season or burying



In the forbidden sight
of each blackened window
a face permeated

the face of each
age of death.

fit fruitfully into
a box.  Each face was made  Each face made real
pores that recalled
the frustrated youth of grandmothers.

Why is your skin so smooth, my grandmother asked
one night. I came out of the bathroom. I was a child.
The night was supposed to feel endless, insatiable,
was stunted  I saw myself in the window  superimposed
on a tree,  and a deer, with red eyes
cut in half

I wash my face, I said
I wash my face too

 

Contributor

Brandon Shimoda

Brandon Shimoda’s recent books include The Desert (poetry and prose; The Song Cave), Dept. of Posthumous Letters (drawings; text by Dot Devota and Caitie Moore; Argos Books), and The Grave on the Wall (an ancestral memoir, forthcoming from City Lights).

ADVERTISEMENTS