By Christine Kitano and traci kato-kiriyama
What speaks as we continue on, through the generations or through a single moment we need to survive? What does that breath or utterance or silence sound like? In New York-based Professor Christine Kitano’s work that is shared with us here, we are treated to an urgency related to memory and a voice that expands beyond those moments — “a story without an ending…” and all that allows us to continue. Her striking pieces here let us reflect on the breathlessness of being and how we somehow keep surging, forward. Enjoy…
1942: IN RESPONSE TO EXECUTIVE
MY FATHER, SIXTEEN, TAKES
No spare underwear.
No clean shirts, pants, or good shoes.
Instead, a suitcase of records. His trombone.
This is not the whole story, and yet, it is true.
It is a story without an ending.
And when I open my mouth to speak, it continues.*
It was night when the buses stopped.
It was too dark to see the road,
or if there was a road. So we waited.
We watched. We thought of back home,
how the orchards would swell with fruit,
how the trees would strain, then give way under their ripe weight.
The pockmarked moon the face of an apple, pitted with rot.
But of course not.
Someone would intervene, would make of our absence a profit.
When we came, the boat, anchored
at San Francisco Bay, swayed for hours . . .
the gauntlet of uniformed men so intent
on finding cause to turn us away.
And now again, we wait.
We watch. Our American children press against us with their small backs.
Which gives us pause. For the sake of the children,
we’ll teach them to forgive the fears of others,
But what we don’t anticipate is how the dust of the desert will clot our throats,
how much fear will conspire to keep us silent.
And how our children will read this silence
as shame. However much we tried, we thought,
to demonstrate grace. When the buses stopped,
it was too dark to see the road. Or if there was a road.
It was night. And instead of speaking, we waited.
Instead of speaking, we watched.*
*Poems originally published in “Sky Country” (BOA Editions, 2017) and copyrighted by Christine Kitano.
This content was later published in discovernikkei.org, which is a project of the Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles. One additional poem is available in the article there.
Christine Kitano co-edited the forthcoming “They Rise Like a Wave” (Blue Oak Press), an anthology of Asian American women and nonbinary poets. She teaches at Ithaca College and in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Find her online at christinekitano.com.