FROM 1942-1946, OVER 110,000 PEOPLE OF JAPANESE ANCESTRY WERE IMPRISONED BY THE AMERICAN GOVERNMENT. JAPANESE AMERICANS WERE PLACED ON TRAINS AND TAKEN ACROSS LANDSCAPES, MANY OF THEM ESTABLISHING A LIFE FAR FROM THE PLACES THEY CALLED HOME.

 

Graves; preface

The vestiges of the camps are lonely.
They are fields of invisible structures, foundations without walls or doors or windows.
They are graves for the memories of those who lived, who died there.
The further east, the less remains.
The further west, the more that memory is retained.

 

Rohwer; Arkansas

In Arkansas,
A cemetery sits.
As though the workers who moved and tore down the barracks,
Were too afraid to touch the graves,
Of infants, of accidents, of people who were buried in this swampy land so far from the western coast where they were born and lived,
Even further from the Japanese island where their ancestors were born and lived.
They were buried here, and their graves sit un-adorned.
For what family member could travel across the country?
To put a flower on a grave?
And remember someone they never knew,
Because that life ended in limbo,
Waiting for release from this camp, this prison,
Waiting to hug their son, a soldier,
And say, “You did it, you did it, you did it.”

 

Amache; Colorado

In Arkansas,
Only the cemetery remains.
The fields are freshly plowed and little stems of green peek through the soil.
The cemetery sits in the middle of this growth, decaying, decayed.
Imagination is all that brings structures to these empty fields.
But in Colorado,
The roads remain.
Foundations sit with signs that let the driver know,
“A school was here, a barrack was here, someone lived here.
A mess hall was here, a temple was here, someone died here.”
The cemetery is gated,
And the graves are flat.
TSUTSUI November 27 1942
OGATA June 27 1944
MATSUDA BABY Dec. 25 1944
The mother who gave birth in the medical barrack, the wind howling and sweeping the dirt across the floor.
She focuses on the tiny whirl wind, that brings the dust across the planks.
Breath in, breath out, breath in, breath out.
They tell her it’s not time to push, but she pushes, she pushes and cries,
Where is her husband, where is her husband?
Where is her baby, conceived here, expired here.
He arrives so small.
Now, coins surround his grave, hot to the touch in the warm afternoon.
His tiny life exists only in this marker,
Hidden from the highway by long dirt roads in a maze.

 

Manzanar; California

When I was a little girl, my Granny would bring out beautiful square paper.
Fold in, fold out, and through her careful direction I would take flat paper and bring it to life.
My corners were sloppy, and even though my fingers were smaller,
Granny’s cranes were so precise, so exact;
“It takes practice.”
She started folding paper in school on an island called Amami-Oshima.
The children would sit and carefully fold, make a mistake, and fold again.
In silence, in meditation.
“This is what is missing from America children.”

In Manzanar, these cranes are floating in the wind, caught in the desert.
Visitors leave cranes on the graves in remembrance, but they don’t remain.
And I think of those unadorned graves in Arkansas, in the South, in my South,
But these cranes, they are not the heavy coins of Colorado.
They are light, and as gusts of wind come across the desert, they take flight.
Their outstretched wings picked up by this breath, they fly to new places.
I want them to fly away;
I want to see them rise and move toward the beautiful mountain that looks over this land,
But they only move to the next bush, to get caught in desert plants,
That look like barbed wire,
Of which you can find bits and pieces on the site,
They move in the wind against the plants,
And I walk over, pick one up, and set it free.

 

Graves; epilogue

When I was a little girl, Granny taught me to count.
Itchy.
Knee.
Sun.
She.
Go.
Loco.
She is 83.
“It’s terrible what they did to Japanese people.”
She has lived in America for sixty years.
Americans are still they.
She will be buried here, in this land, far from the ocean where she lived,
As a young woman, standing in the surf, skin brown from the sun,
Arms open.

 

Stephanie Parker

Stephanie Parker

Stephanie Don Chiemi Parker is a PhD Candidate in English studies at the University of Alabama where she teaches writing and literature. Her current research focuses on multivocal forms of visual and digital narratives from Japanese Americans incarcerated during WWII. She is interested in the ways that travel/spaces/home intersect with mixed identities. She is also passionate about mixing narratives genres with her academic work, and taking care of her two cats, Rori and JoJo.

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