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Part 1 Contributors

 

Rae Armantrout
Bart Edelman
David Garyan
Suzanne Lummis
Glenna Luschei
Bill Mohr
D. A. Powell
Amy Uyematsu
Paul Vangelisti
Charles Harper Webb
Bruce Willard
Gail Wronsky

Part 2 Contributors

Elena Karina Byrne
liz gonzález
Grant Hier
Lois P. Jones
Ron Koertge
Glenna Luschei
Rooja Mohassessy
Susan Rogers
Patty Seyburn
Maw Shein Win
Kim Shuck
Lynne Thompson
Carine Topal
Cecilia Woloch


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Click to enlarge picture Amy Uyematsu
Amy Uyematsu
Californian Poets Part 1: Three Poems
by
Amy Uyematsu


 

 



The Suitcase
           - a Manzanar tale

In 1945 Dad and Grandpa
get a travel permit from Manzanar
officials to visit Star Nurseries,
the business Grandpa starts
back in the 30s and flourishes
even in the Depression years.
They take a bus bound for L.A.

Stopping in the small town
of Mojave, Dad tells
Grandpa to stay on the bus -
knowing the war is still
being fought and how
dangerous it is for them -
but Grandpa gets off anyway.

Like many issei, Grandpa
is short – 5'2” at the most -
not exactly threatening,
but as he walks downtown
the cops arrest him, put
Grandpa and Dad in jail
to spend the night.

Around 2 AM FBI agents
pick them up and drive
them to Fresno, never
suspecting the hatchet
Grandpa packs in his suitcase,
the hatchet not so unusual for
this gifted plant grower.

Dad recalls how dark it is
on the winding mountain roads.
Already nervous, he starts to panic
when one of the agents turns on
the light inside the car, looks
hard at both of them
sitting in the back seat.

Dad warns Grandpa, speaking
in Japanese, “Don't do anything
to make them suspicious.”
The FBI never inspects the suitcase.
Once in Fresno, they are questioned
then put back on a bus to L.A. -
Grandpa's hatchet in tow.


Note: Manzanar was one of the ten “relocation” centers / prisons for 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II.



Winter Friend, the Pine

Even before I learned my name
contains “matsu,” Japanese for pine tree,
it seemed to be part of my own
genetic destiny. Generations
of Uyematsus lived on Izu Peninsula,
home to cedar, cypress, and pine.
No one told me about an ancestral
reverence to matsu that would
have made much more sense
than the 50s Americana I was
raised on. LA's eucalyptus,
pepper and jacaranda trees fill
my girlhood memories, yet I'll
always gravitate to pine.

How fitting that the first time
I realized there might be a god
was around eight or nine,
on a trip to King's Canyon
with my uncle's family.
It was that moment
when I was all alone,
pine trees overhead
and the sound of water
nearby - a feeling
of something so amazing
and bigger than anything
I'd ever felt before -
impossible to forget.

How comforting to learn,
so many years later,
that in Shinto legend,
gods and goddesses
descended on
pine tree branches,
their spirits still residing
inside. On matsu planted
at Shinto shrines, omikuji,
fortune-telling paper strips
holding both blessings
and curses, are tied to
the branches to ensure
good luck.

I've planted a kuro-matsu,
Japanese black pine,
in my front yard garden.
Surrounded by mossy
grass, it stands out
in my very urban
neighborhood, crowded
with houses and cars
and low maintenance
landscapes. A tiny treasure,
it may well be the most
gorgeous plant – a welcome
aberration – on this
ordinary cul-de-sac.

Recently I've discovered
the pine tree is central
to Noh play scenery
and in Heian poetry
it's linked with
waiting for a lover.
Clusters of paired
pine needles that drop
to the ground are
symbols of fidelity.
And in Japanese
shochikubai refers to
the three friends of winter -
pine, bamboo and plum.

While winter approaches
in so many different ways,
I continue to take in
the season's uncertainties
with endless little beauties -
– like today's microscopic
photos of pine stems,
in eye-boggling cross
sections of intricate
purples and blues,
or this latest handful
of pine needles, still
lovely and green
on my open palm.



To Tell the Truth

     “President Trump has made 15,413 false or misleading claims over 1,055 days”
     December 10, 2019 headline, Washington Post

Since when is evidence and proof no longer required?
Whether the massacre of children at Sandy Hook
being called a hoax, a rising chorus of denial
about six million Jews exterminated in death camps,
or concrete footage of families separated in border jails
discounted as “fake news.” Alarming how normal
it's become to hear gutless politicians defend
the latest tweet storm of presidential lies.

This isn't shocking – people of color have long been
victims to the falsehoods of American racism -
from the “discovery” by Columbus to Wounded Knee,
from Jim Crow and lynchings to the trumped up detention
and deportation of Latino immigrants. How well my family
knows FDR's Executive 9066, which wrongly condemned
120,000 Japanese, including my parents and grandparents,
locking us behind barbed wire and armed guards.

But something bigger is taking hold, a fertile soil
via the internet, Facebook, Fox news, and more
for conspiracy theories, reckless claims dismissing
climate change and labeling journalists “the enemy.”
All around us we watch fellow citizens bloated on mis-
information, a growing lynch mob whose blindness
and fear is giving way to tyrants and oligarchs -
truth, an ever riskier and lonelier proposition.