Otsukimi

I used to see a face in you —
Crater eyes, mouth agape
At our audacity to conquer you with a flag
To use you like a pawn,
To claim you for America
As if all humanity didn’t wish on you,
Didn’t pray to you, nor tell your legends to progeny.

Then I went to Japan, saw Hiroshima twice–
Once for the sun, the ball of fire glowing over heads of children
Melting their gingham dresses in their skin,
Skin that dripped like candle wax from their elbows.

Then I returned a second time to Hiroshima–
At night, to see you rise above the Memorial dome,
Reflect the sun’s destruction, in shadows and soft blue.

And now when I see you,
I look for rabbits pounding mochi–
That sweet gelatinous rice dessert
That children in Hiroshima probably filled with anko,
And ate with chichi, haha, obaasan, ojiisan,
Generations passing down the same reverence for nature, for ancestors.

Handing down traditions,
one palm shaping the opaque doughy mochi like they had done a life-time of Autumn’s before,
gently tossing it to a new palm not yet fully grown, not yet worn.

And I wonder if one of those children saw the rabbit on the moon
Only a month or so after losing everything they’d known

I wonder if you reminded them of grandmothers’ hands forming half-moon mochis
Of grandfather’s taiko drums thudding like heart beats and footsteps,
a river of familiar faces smiling down the street.
Of rice balls thrown in the air and big brother nimbly catching one.

O, Great Moon, did you give them your soft light as they walked through radioactive debris?
Did they find solace in the white rabbit who sacrificed his life?
Did they look at your unburnt surface just as somewhere in America a mother was singing a rhyme of cows jumping over the moon
Singing to a child who still had their skin and dish and spoon.

 

Senrei

It was a Sunday,
It had snowed recently, maybe the morning before,
And the bamboo bowed to the road
Like palm branches to a Savior,
But there was no man, no beast of burden,
Just me and the crunch of refrozen snow under treadless shoes–
I had faith in my balance.

Cedar trees enclosed the shrine, one solitary path marked by a red gate–
A torii with faded paint,
Reminding me of the three crosses
On the hill near Hope
Built out of metal pipe and the two outer crosses painted white,
And the middle one painted yellow…
But the last time I saw them, they’d faded to dirty gray
And dingy mustard — Luster loss:
Shining for no one anymore.

Half a world away, I approached the shrine
The steps slippery, but I climbed them searching for solace,
Comfort at the altar of a foreign divine.

Half-way up the stairs I stopped–
Not because they had become more treacherous
Not because my legs burned,
Not because the sun’s last rays glowed behind the mountain

But because a red and white ribbon
Around a tree indicated it was sacred
And a little boddhisatva statue with red cap reminded me of mizukuyo —
The ceremony for aborted or miscarried babies, literally “water children” —
Not quite solidified beings.

Closing my eyes, I felt wind lift snow from holy trees
Descending to my cheeks where it melted and fell like tears from the divine
Or perhaps it was a water-child kiss.

There was no need to complete the ascension to the altar —
I had been absolved by the purest snow.

 

Sangatsu Juichinichi

I always felt you first, the almost unnoticed vibration of my desk
And I braced myself for you
While Saiko-sensei continued discussing the after-school speech practice.
I gripped my desk and whispered, “Jishin, da yo.”

And before she could decipher my broken Japanese
She felt the slip in your plates
As the O-cha pot fell to the floor
And the lights cast different shadows as they danced
And Seto-san shrieked and as soon as you made your presence known–
You were gone–

Your children visited briefly,
Like large then smaller trucks passing-
A decrescendo of rumbling earth.

When I saw the news,
There was no warning for me.

Continents away– you shook my soul;
You’d moved while I was sleeping,
Too far to feel you, except through the airwaves and ethernet
And I couldn’t reach Saiko-sensei–
For six days I called,
For six days the same message in Japanese that she couldn’t be reached.
Had you swallowed her?
Had you buried her under the school’s rubble?
Had you brought the tsunami to drown her?

Had I slept and not felt even a tremble in my car as you swept away the woman who is my Japanese big sister, my “onesan,” who took care of me when I was sick and who taught me my first words in Japanese and who sobbed when she left me at the train station when I returned to America.

Had you taken her from me?

Then day 7, another call and her voice: “I’m ok, I’m ok, Daijobu ne.” she cried.

And then, Jishin, I felt you as my whole body shuddered with relief
And my face was drenched and I let out a sound like the Earth colliding on itself.

 

Sarah M. Burns

Sarah M. Burns

Sarah Burns is a high school English teacher in Arkansas. She is the co-author of "Multicultural Adolescent Literature: Finding the Balance" in the book, Teaching Young Adult Literature Today. She taught English in rural Japan for two years. Her passions include studying languages and cultures, improving education for English language learners, and writing poetry.  

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