Obelisk at Manzanar, April 28, 2007

I watch you in the dust and you are
issei, Nisei, sansei
in white stone and kanji I cannot read
the thousand tsurus drape around your ropes
refracting the sunlight you squinted away from
and the Shinto Buddhist Christian prayers
give me homeland
and I know you are my people
buried underneath the signs labeled “baseball field”
and “Catholic Church” I see you
running, laughing, trying to live
while the guns point inward
and I know you are my people
captured in Chiura Obata paintings
and Dorothea Lange black and whites
you are my people, the checker-dressed girls
pledging allegiance in San Francisco
the old man whose soul looks skeletal his
grandson slung over his shoulder
I know that you are my people
as I clutch the rusted barbed wire
now tamed by National Park Service
exhibitionism—I hear you
in the subtle accents and patient cadence
of gray permed Nisei ladies speaking
of dead husbands and trips to Okinawa,
of 442 veterans covered in buttons,
sport coats, “Go For Broke” patches forgotten
by yonsei and I know you are my people
peppered in mochi and kirin to soak the past in
I hear you in the swish-swash of Shinto streamers
in the Pledge of Allegiance that tastes
salty with contradiction,
in the dust kicked by tires
following the legacies of trucks in camouflage colors
and I wonder where the shots were fired
where the rioters fell like DeWitt’s unholy syllables
and the gentleman soldiers fly through French tree trunks
with rifles and memories
scrambling, hugging death to their chests
as they fight for the forgiveness
for even existing
I hear you in the silence of forty years
the shame and the apple pies of denial
the saliva on the ground of No No Boys
splattering on the sidewalk like dreams deferred
and I know you are my people
almost gone, diluted in apathy,
and you stand tall and white and illegible to my
American eyesight
like the Sierra Nevadas in the background
In this arid air I hope we have not
deserted each other,
as I feel the shape of the scar
but do not know how to respond to it
My grandpa was MIS from Hawaii,
plantation boy, avoided internment
My grandma was Kibei, in Japan
making the bullets that pierced Yankees
and yet I see my reflection
in the tears over broken China,
homes resold,
Japs Go Home signs
and white women pointing with hatred
in their forefingers like they see
the devil in acute angles and eye folds
I imagine my Chinese American friend
wearing an “I am a Loyal Chinese” button
and I know you are my people
because I would’ve worn an ID tag instead
and part of me screams at you
see—
this is what it is like,
after Southern plantations and whips
and smallpox and reservations
and Emmit Tills and Geronimos
what else could you expect?
And the tragedy of our pain
is that
even we were imprisoned
even we, as if
maybe the others deserved it more
America did not betray us
we betrayed ourselves
America did not betray us
we betrayed ourselves
this is but one chapter in the
red white and blue bullet
that consecrated our borders
the sandstorms of Manzanar blew
gunpowder whose age we only now learn
and I know you are my people
lost in the shame of being
less than our dreams
lost in the shame of a betrayal
from the greatest of all betrayers
You are my people.
You are my people.
You are my people.
And for the first time in years,
I hear myself praying.
I choose to whisper it
into your illegible lines
and wonder if you can hear it.

— Takeo Rivera

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Filed under Poetry, Vol 2 Issue 1

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