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 cutgardens into Arkansas desert, fixed rocks into the flat faceof the earth and irrigated bean rows to feed their families.Healthy vines appeared where none should havegrown; tiny buds coaxed from the earth, tendrilsthat 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.
Copyright © 2018 by Mia Ayumi Malhotra
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission
Mia Ayumi Malhotra is a Kundiman Fellow, and her poems have appeared in Greensboro Review, Drunken Boat, Best New Poets, and DISMANTLE: An Anthology of Writing from the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop. She received her MFA from the University of Washington and is a founding editor of Lantern Review. Currently, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two daughters. (Author photo by Sana Javeri Kadri)
“By turns delicate and anguished, the poems [in Isako Isako] ask how one can recover—and recover from—experiences that are not one’s own.”
“Isako Isako is a carefully controlled whirlwind of ideas and impressions that reminds us that the scars laid down today will still be visible generations from now.”
“Isako Isako is a powerful testament to poetry’s capacity for alchemizing history, memoir, and the lyric: the poems here intimately address the landscapes of war and the reverberations of violence through bodies and bloodlines. Malhotra’s visionary debut collection spans generations, countries, and loves, weaving the story of a mother survivor with reflections on the limits and reaches of memory. Sandalwood cities, desert gardens, dragon skin, and peach pits emerge from a shadowed past, details that ‘elude / even as they’re remembered.‘”