「Obake Obachan」

Bret Yamanaka

Diane Yayoe Suzuki disappeared on July 6, 1985.

The porch light flickers for thirty-six years. Somewhere            a hen claws the dirt, thin legs scrambling to leave a trace. Maybe another girl      dances alone in her room. Maybe we curl back our tongues to mimic the red                   glow beneath the smoke crumbling into a bowl of ash. Call this a prayer,            call it a daily grief because we’ve forgotten how to shape the name                        with our tongues—can only name the man who swallowed your light.So name him. Dew on the sand. Rain on a cloudless day bending every ray of light.            Our faces turned away from the sky. Somewhere, a fox celebrates a false marriage where      he’ll crawl back into that murky darkness. A tattered pinion: useless. Another name                   without a body. Another body on the side of the road. Another small girl—            maybe you—with black hair, small ears, piercings. This time. Another unheard prayer.                        Remember how we would hide inside our homes if the sun burned redand the sun burned red every evening, soaking the seam of the sky with blood            or something like blood. Even now we ignite the backyard with fluorescent light,      sear our eyes with smoke to chase a memory and choke down a shared prayer.                   The salted fish wrapped in taro leaves, the smoked flesh of pigs—a meal where            we can pick the bones clean, bones we can hold in our hands, bones we can bury. Your                        pictures pasted in every window, every mouth echoing have you seen Diane?A chorus of mouths, of hands, of sockets gaping wide in search of your name        and the body that carried it. The unnamed body that carried you away. The tiles stained red      with his first hunger. How my mother would quietly call me Rose. Hide me in the girl’s               bathroom, too afraid to send me alone but unsure why. How I still scramble for the light            switch, clawing the bathroom walls for that plastic reassurance. Wear                        the remnants of insects and wax smeared across my lips—call this a private prayer.Look at the banyan tree. How it hangs off the sky like a prayer,            tied to its host till what it clings to rots away. And what thrives, unnamed      inside that hollow: a god, a ghost, everything we’ve buried, where                   we ache to forget—for rain to come and flood the space between our ribs, or fire            to devour it, and us with it. How every evening that flickering light                        is a kind of yearning. How I imagine at the edge of that yearning youtoe the dim line, afraid to walk into an empty home. Yes, even now I imagine you            dancing. How one day we’ll empty ourselves of all our prayers:      the lies we untwisted like cellophane wrappers, a handful of feathers, the dim light                   of incense at the bottom of a bowl. But please, just once more, tell me the name            of the song you hummed in my dreams—the one with the bright red                        apples buried beneath the winter snow. Teach me to sing the song wherethe wind never wept into my hands the name of any girl            where the waters could soothe the red glow of our prayers                               and in that soft silence, somewhere, we could turn off the porch light.

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Bret Yamanaka (he/him) is a New York based poet and dance artist. His work investigates how language can physically disrupt or invite sensations, and how pressing the body to its extremes can create visceral narratives. His writing has won The Iowa Review Award, The Gearhart Poetry Prize, and he was a 2022 Margins Fellow through the Asian American Writers Workshop. He has performed for Akram Khan, was a Teaching Fellow at The Juilliard School, and currently performs in Punchdrunk’s award winning production Sleep No More.


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The Southeast Review, established in 1979 as Sundog, is a national literary magazine housed in the English department at Florida State University, edited and managed by graduate students. Our mission is to present emerging writers on the same stage as well-established ones. We publish literary fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, book reviews, interviews, and art across our biannual print issues and online. With nearly sixty members on our editorial staff who come from throughout the country and around the world, we publish work that is representative of our diverse interests and aesthetics, and we celebrate the eclectic mix this produces.


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