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Portrait of lsako in Wartime

Ohio, and I imagine her
           walking the train line,
tracks narrowed in the distance.
           Through her soles,
the platform's slats. She feels
           their unevenness
in the flats of her feet. Noon
           day heat and the wool
of her jacket's itchy.
           She's got a bob, it's 1943
and the war's on. No one
           in the station looks
like her, but everyone's
           looking at her.
No explanation but the one
           in government-issued print.
National Student Relocation
           Council. Early Release.
The sentry in his watch-
           tower, barbed-wire fence
and Stars and Stripes flapping
           in the wind. From across
the tracks, a man (here,
           imagination does the work
history's lost) approaches, finger
           bared, a blunt accusation.
Aren't you a Jap? The long
           explanation—why she's out,
whose side she's on.
           The nations we pledge
at odds, leaving us to make
           up the difference.
This story's old, the woman
           —dead, papers boxed
in a back closet. I've seen them.
           Early Release.
The government-issued ID number.

           In camp, it's said, they cut
gardens into Arkansas desert,
           fixed rocks into the flat face
of the earth and irrigated
           bean rows to feed their families.
Healthy vines appeared
           where none should have
grown; tiny buds coaxed
           from the earth, tendrils
that spooled runners
           through dust.

When the order came
           to pack up and return
home, the authorities found
           every curtain drawn
shut. Every barrack
           floor swept clean.

Mia Ayumi Malhotra

Isako Isako
Alice James Books

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