Kartika Review is one of the best literary journals dedicated to Asian-Americans.
The current issue– the Spring 2012 issue has just come out.
My first poem has been published in it (page 54).
It is entitled: For Kiyoko, Epitaph/Chikai – which is dedicated to my mother who recently passed, just this past September.
Category Archives: Poem and Poets
Revolution – by Junko Nishi, Japanese woman poet
Since the images you demand
cling to me
I cannot form my own image.
I am forced to live
by your images,
I am always living like that,
revolution is really body aching.
Race-Nation-Gender-Class-Nation: Forget it. Never Forget it
Pat Parker (1944-1989), poet, teacher and activist, wrote this poem: For the White Person Who Wants to Know How to Be My Friend and had this wonderful line:
The first thing you do is to forget that i’m Black.
Second, you must never forget that i’m Black.
For any social difference that exists in any society, we can place it there, in the space of “Black.” In any case, color-blindness, gender-blindness, mixed-space blindness, sexual orientation blindness, socio-economic class blindness, neighborhood blindness, body-size blindness, nationality blindness etc. etc. — we have to pay attention to how quickly we may subsume, make invisible, refuse (ignore), make trivial, something that makes a difference. Sameness is too valorized in the globalizing society. It’s not about any particular choices we have in holding on and letting go—-because even this is an action and a series of action (holding or letting go, that is), that come from political positionings that rely on privilege, luck, ability, amount of trauma, fear, violence, and a host of other things that come from oppression and social constructions of society.
Let us not forget how completely and utterly different we are from each other. This way, we truly understand diversity. If we “understand,” then perhaps we do not understand difference at all. We just consume, co-opt, and bring into our own history and culture and language and values, that OTHER. This is a violence to that Other.
But in saying they are different, do we automatically become AFRAID? Or do we automatically become ANGRY? Do we automatically IGNORE? Do we assume we can translate, communicate? Yes we can communicate, but understanding its partiality is important.
Honor you. Honor me.
In our difference. Utterly different. Utterly ourselves. Yet somehow, we are related as humans, as that who has experienced pain.
Perhaps other things. But do not assume equality.
There . . . . . . Can we allow difficulty, struggle, powerful connection and dissonance?
Ode to Happiness.
You’ve escaped the best you can. You wanted happy. Happy. Your life was sad and bad and cruel and cold.
So you grew to want happy happy happiness. Along that road, your own culture and village and old ways were made to be stupid and old-fashioned and dumb and primitive. So you grew to hold your own ways in contempt. With loathing but with longing. You remember with sadness and pain—ahhhhh the old ways of my grandmother and grandfather. Oh well, life goes on. You’ve learned to bury.
Let’s find and build a home! Four walls, many separate rooms. A car or two. A fence to keep those “others” out.
Or perhaps you found a “commune,” with “like-minded” people who thought just like you. Even though some of them molested you and entered you at night, you kept it secret in the name of the secret and not-so-secret wishes for happy happy happy. It’s okay. Bury those pains and dreams of those people. They violated you. They perhaps killed your sons and brothers and raped your mother and sisters. You hold them in contempt. Now they smile and they build you orphanages.
First they killed your parents. Then they build your orphanages “for you” with a compassion. It’s all over the news programs! It must be true. Our government and our leaders are compassionate and they want what’s best for us! You wither in secret. But outwardly you go to work everyday to do what everyone does. Otherwise you would be homeless.
Happy. You are happy. You hold it superior. If I cry you tell me I should see a therapist. I cry for my ancestors and live with its weight. Unlike you, perhaps, I cannot shake it off. I come from their bodies and their struggle against their genocides. And the superior people, privileged in their assimilation to privileged openings to technologies and banking and the hiding of their brutality in their loopholes and crevices of escape inside the laws they themselves write….create more suffering and blame it on my ancestors. It is a weight.
Quit your crying they say. I cry. But I also rage. Crying and rage move together to struggle for ethical concerns and meaningful democracies. The Democracy that is the USA and Western Europe and Japan now, are a sham. But everyone is now trying to escape. Escape away from the unexamined actions that is their life. Life. Apparently we are all on our own. Whatever we cry about is our own problem, even though the problems come from the socieities and the people assimilated closely to, and WANT TO ACCESS those escapes, those that want to move into the homes and have vacations. And communes with like-minded unexamining.
Forget the dead. Forget those destroyed by the machine that is now prevalent, disguised as happy happy happy. Promising thing unfulfilled. The most dangerous thing is our own minds, our own actions. Especially when we congratulate ourselves. Exploited, then made into disguising it as something not.
Then you tell us what to do. You tell us the road to happiness. Your happiness kills. Your happiness is a history of lying and deception. Your happiness is the amassing of resources that masks itself as providence, as mainstay, as supposed-to-be and supposed-to-not be–over and over and over. Followers of happiness, never happy, just followers of promises that are unfulfilled. I am happy, others should copy me–that’s what you say. That is called “colonizer.” Happiness is not my goal. But you say it is. Happy happy happiness.
Systems replaced by other systems. Systems should be local and egalitarian. This makes things messy. You don’t want messy. You want an order, a value system, an unexamined value system that continues to annihilate in the crevices that you have not thought through or care not to face. Oh no, I’m not racist. Oh no, I’m not heterosexist. Oh no I’m a nice person, really. The germs aren’t here. Or perhaps you know that what you say disguises your real pain–your self-disgust, your disgust at your own culture.
The old ways are not promising either. Babies with the bath-water. Thrown, no CRUSHED away. With glee and celebration like those after the Atomic bomb was dropped on Japan, or after the Malaria blankets were laid on the Native American children. Oh but it’s for democracy, our great land. Continual colonialism, disguised as: “That’s that, it’s different from what I do. I’m a good person.”
Who are you? You say you’re happy. Or you will be as soon as the others listen to what you have to say. You know better. You are good.
You are happy happy happy. House, children, cars, vacations, traveling into lands where people don’t want you or have been made to want you because it’s the only way your own government has made their lands–to be slaves to the tourists and foreigners. See–they want me here, they need us. That was made real, my friend. It wasn’t an accident. Open your eyes. But all you care is that you’re happy and that happiness looks a certain way. I get sick.
I don’t want your happiness. I want life.
Black-Okinawa in flux: Race/Space -February 11, Friday. Event in California
Event: Blackness in Flux in Okinawa + Black Japanese Guest Artist Time: Friday, February 11 at 4:00pm - 6:30pm Location: UC Berkeley, Barrows Hall, Rm. 691 Organizers: PHD students, Co-recipients of UC Center for New Racial Studies Grant,2010-11 Eriko Ikehara (UC Berkeley Ethnic Studies) Mitzi Uehara-Carter (UC Berkeley Anthropology) "Making Race in Between Racial "States of Being" Two black-Okinawan graduate students at UC Berkeley will present some of their research findings and their works in progress on race, space, and US militarization in Okinawa. This forum will also bring together several black- Japanese who will share their poetry, art, and other creative works which speak to blackness in flux in their own lives. Guest performers: Fredrick Cloyd Sabrena Taylor Michael James Ahmed Yamato Ariko Ikehara Mitzi Uehara Carter Program A: 4-4:45 pm Mid-Year Grant Report Ariko Ikehara: “Situating black-Amerasian Okinawans in mixed space/race history” Mitzi Uehara Carter: “Nappy Routes and Tangled Tales of Blackness in Okinawa” Program B: 5pm-6pm Guest Performances
‘Taint’ – afro-japanese poetic musing & Point
I exile myself from myself. and YOU——-Don’t see yourself as…….Tainted. If you do….you hide it and make me tainted and I see you Sad. And that makes you see me angry, insane. Impossible.
When I do, I’m home. Home is exile. Exile because there’s no way what you call ‘home’ can be mine.
And as if home doesn’t change, morph, move into something — always unrecognizable. It’s too late for recognition. But I will show you something and you will recognize it for what you think and feel and hear and taste. My body is colonized by your gaze.
We’re people-of-color. That’s an identity that’s tainted. But without it I completely become white and Japanese and black. Colonized by those rules of walk, talk, understanding, dance.
When I choose my ‘own’ way, I know it’s not my own. It’s been handed down. If so, who gives a shit?
It doesn’t matter in this so-called ‘post-social’ world of ours….alienations and displacements where people who have had communities continued in another land, another space/time and call it ‘home’ will ————look down——-down——on me and those like me. And we can pretend to be brothers and sisters because we share. And some who don’t look down on me, think we are equals. No time/space, no legacy, no sekihan, cho-cho, miso shiru, barbecued ribs, konketsuji, nigger, left unconscious dead. I’m not allowed. So in that time where you cannot bear my pain and it is exiled into me, we SHARE ———the colonized mind. But there are those who do share. There’s no need for the pain, but there’s a need for allowing and alliance.
Can we ‘Be’——with our differences? The thousand bombs and body-part explosions, mushroom clouds and slavery whips, and imprisonments of my ancestors and the occupation of my body in heterosexual mindscapes and border-guard territories———will NOT make you superior to me. Because you don’t remember. Forever you may enslave yourself but I remain TAINTED in your result, your gun. Your attitude-pistol that props you up WITH it. Instead of takuan, I eat hamburgers in that place. But I eat takuan uh huh. Hungry.
Forever blackened in your multicultural superiority that pretends equality. Forever not right. Forever imprisoned. No matter how many songs I sing to you, no matter how many silences and gentle hands, I’m only a big penis, a tawny muscle movement, a …a…..a….a. some ‘THING’ that is compared to your utopia. Utopia……the unconscious colonial organ.
‘Thing’ yourself with your colonized mind, until you crave, then so so tired tired you start to see me. Perhaps someday….we may actually touch beyond eyes here. Right here, and between your complete and beautiful to my complete and beautiful. Always it is part, incomplete, moving and dancing in time. complete is incomplete always and beautiful, but justice moans. Then we understand that we are scarred.
Scarred and twisted in your so-called will to perfection. That is perverted….tainted. Just ‘being’ I am tainted because YOU are tainted. Funny thing is…. there doesn’t need to be this———TAINT. But what?
Taint me and I you. Let’s walk y’all.
Poem: Who is Hiroshima?
Photo: Osaka from the air after bombings
WHO IS HIROSHIMA?
It was no mushroom cloud. It wasn’t
When I speak……… WHO is Hiroshima? WHO owns its name?
What does its memory confront or continue?
The heavy boots of US American navy men, running off of their American boats onto the shores of Naha in Uchina, Yokohama, Tachikawa or Yokosuka—into the bars where the so-called ORIENTAL girls are there, ripe for their pickin’s and choosin’s. Attractions, games, bribes, collusions, rapes. The pliable and obedient oriental slaves. The imperial Japanese……watching, planning, bribing, stealing, Starved for food, comfort, defeated, wanting, Starving flesh.
No rule of law in Japan can touch Americans there. This started BEFORE Hiroshima was on the maps of any American. Before anyone else existed, all others are inferior.
What is Hiroshima? Who carries its name? Hiroshima overcrowds the real story, the real picture, the BIG picture.
Month after month //////// daily fire-bombings///// Tokyo, rubbles, stench……….. One month of the torture-fires at night came to Osaka where my mother was a child, forgotten now even in history books. It’s only a shadow of Hiroshima if that. Screams. Screams. Burnt flesh. Shanghai, Nanking Chinese cries under Japanese bombs. Now Tokyo under Americans.
Sirens, burning flesh, screaming, running, sweating/////// Quivering lips in bomb shelters…… Limb-flying explosions. The limbs without bodies….the end…the beginnings.
My mother the little girl—a nameless black-haired girl under flying, released, BOMBSsssssss /////
Her life supposedly never happened for neither the Japanese nor the Americans. Bone-rattling///Poundings, chemical-fires of the inside-out…….
Little GIRL survived…………the rats she ate in poverty, the hanging skin of her friends’ burnt flesh, the plea for food and water…..scrap metal roofs and trash for walls………never happened except in a warbride diary of someone else’s land. SHE was in OSAKA, Tokyo—NOT Hiroshima. And yet……..IT was Hiroshima we only utter….and remember. But as what?
It was another war////////// different from what Japanese say……….. Americans say……….burning.
I knew my mother as KIYOKO. She signed her name on her checks in the stucco red desert house……..Albuquerque. and there it was on her ID card: KIYOKO ……… written carefully, slowly, with flare by her aging hands. American military jeeps in her eyes and splinters of her friends’ bodies in her skin.
She practiced for three months everyday for one hour, to write her name in English.
Why did my FATHER, her husband, and my mother’s brother TERUO, call her EMIKO?
Over genmai-cha and osembe……I asked her at 27 /////////
She tells: Kiyoko is my sister’s name. She died in Hiroshima.
Our family papers were disappeared on AUGUST 6—you know—the JIGEN BAKUDAN. To marry your father, I needed papers.
She marries an American occupation soldier—a military policeman, just 16 years old, faking it so he can fight for the country that hates him in his own land–African-American, almost proud to be an American but this American…..is a promise and a hope, not real. Even as he was an occupation policeman with gun in hand, the lynching of black prisoners in the US military jails in Japan haunted him. He bears the only truth he knows.
I, as a son of the victor and the defeated ////////// Hiroshima is unending. Hiroshima covers all issues. Hiroshima was a wall of fire and 3000 degrees Celsius.
It was not a mushroom cloud. Blood. Scream. Flying. Death…..wall of fire.
I, the son of a Black and Yellow. I, must now…… Articulate this Place, in my body, everywhere.
Ghosts passed onto lands and dreams.
Soochow….Osaka…Tokyo…Yokohama…Tuskeegee…Nashville….Detroit….San Francisco Peace Treaty signed…then….A-bomb…Pyongyang….DaNang …Albuquerque….Stop. Listen.
When I speak………….. WHO is HIROSHIMA now?
Arundhati Roy. Jill Scott. Pointing to Resistance
“Power is fortified not just by what it destroys, but also by what it creates. Not just by what it takes, but also by what it gives. And powerlessness reaffirmed not just by the helplessness of those who have lost, but also by the gratitude of those who have (or think they have) gained. ”
– Arundhati Roy, from The Greater Common Good May, 1999
Internalized oppressions and bourgeois ideals can brutalize our ways to alliance-building and liberations.
Legacies of being violated in the social structure, playing out in the everyday, can leave nothing but those actions in our own actions, replaying them without realizing, with seemingly no other way to go. If we divide ourselves and each other in our own communities, if we make them violent and unforgiveable, confusing and isolating, the way becomes darker. Faking friendships–making them false friendships, comfort and safety and wanting this everywhere is also a weakness that strangles and disempowers us, legitimizing our giving up easily and to becoming hopelessly hopeless in the never-ending fight and struggle for justice, equity, care, and ethics in our everyday present.
Patriarchal assumptions in relations, ignoring our roots, in letting history allow us to ignore, in relegating ‘good’ activisms towards those that wind up supporting the morally superior, which already controls, dominates and violates us and admonishes those violated to remain ‘good’ while they continue to maintain and intensify the spaces and actions through which they dominate, making smaller spaces for difference and other—- onward onward.
Break the chains that would have us continue to want absolute safety, comfort, dominance and moral superiority, and to legitimize our own traumas and weaknesses through our practices of our own dominations. The master/slave dynamic is not just about dominance and submission in their raw forms. It is also about how we have internalized these notions and operate those creatures on ourselves. We have moved way past treating each other the way we want to be treated. If we hate ourselves, then how would we treat others–even in our so-called ‘best’ behavior? Ask ourselves what must be done to turn directions, no matter how difficult.
What Arundhati Roy, activist/writer; and Jill Scott, poet/activist and singer, would ask us to do is to think about how we circumvent ourselves and each other, often without knowing. Reflecting on our unexamined modes of the way we are ‘ourselves’ in the world, can we move differently? Move our assumptions to a place where we can see and shift? Unafraid to experiment, and find those who want to walk that path that will surely become increasingly difficult as the systems that operate around us also operate through us. We must see that not our entire self, not the entire communities, or people, or history, are totally one-sided or one way. There are resistances and ambiguous spaces. Questions. Let us listen to Jill Scott and what she is saying. Let us listen to Arundhati Roy. What is she saying?
How must we walk our paths differently from here?
Arundhati Roy – wikipedia : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arundhati_Roy
Kabuki 歌舞伎 – the Great Bandō Tamasaburō 坂東 玉三郎
Kabuki 歌舞伎 is a traditional Japanese dance/theater performance art, enjoyed as an avante-garde (even as it was developed) form which developed gradually over various political scenarios into its present form.
Originally performed by both women and men, it soon began to be primarily performed by young men with physical beauty as well as women. In the middle 1600s, the shogun of Japan banned Kabuki because of riots due to the audience members fighting over beautiful men and women (there was no strong heterosexist exclusionary division of imagination at this time in history, much like the ancient Greek and much of the old Ottoman, Roman and Hasburg civilizations, as an example).
Soon women were banned from performing and cross-dressing male actors, raised from a very young age, became the primary performers of Kabuki. The style is highly stylized, bizarre, and nuanced. Many of the story-lines came from Noh theatre, Puppet-performance called Noh, as well as traditional kabuki-intended storylines. Famous poems of their times, song styles from popular and elite forms, and the various instruments from the different art-dance genres, sometimes began to crossover, depending on what the Kabuki performers and productionists wanted to project to the audience.
Kabuki art forms are meant to evoke from the audience, an emotional participation. Some call-outs by audience members during performances are common at certain quieter performances. Kabuki actors want concentration on the forms, gestures and every nuance of movement, and also be transported to another world, as opposed to remaining ‘audience’ members. In this way, much of Japanese kabuki performance, similar to Noh theater, is not a mere ‘watching’ but a participation through sensitivity to movement as much as the story-lines.
Kabuki performance was briefly banned by the US and Allied Occupying forces after WWII, but it was reinstated in 1947. This, coupled with the devastation of Japan after the war and its concentration on re-building, as well as many Japanese institutions and people rejecting many of their old ways, intensified the downslide of kabuki popularity. However, helped by booming interest in kabuki by European, Australian/NewZealand, and American fans, kabuki did not completely die out and has remained an important cultural genre. The best performers are revered and maintained as cultural icons, even if only a handful.
Wikipedia has an excellent overview of this art: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kabuki
I have inserted two videos out of the complete 3 in the series to one of the handful of great living modern performers of Kabuki- Tamasaburō Bandō 坂東 玉三郎. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bandō_Tamasaburō_V – followed by a short clip from an interview with him.
The videos are narrated quite wonderfully by Peter Griffith and are from an excellent series of DVDs of Tamasaburo’s performances. On the DVDs, the narration can be turned off if you want to just become engrossed in the performance. For understanding what is happening in the pieces, the narration is quite helpful. These other traditional Japanese arts DVDs and other materials can be found at:
Marty Grosse productions: http://www.martygrossfilms.com/index.html
Farside Music: http://www.farsidemusic.com/
After watching, we could, then, discuss what Judith Butler has talked about in relation to coercive gender, sexual orientation, performance, and their relationship with ‘reality’ as far as freedom, art, expression, cultural difference, pleasure and life.
Commentary on Barry Lopez Post: On HOPE
I think that having a pre-determined imagination and then performing it in the world most-often leads to a colonizing of the imagination with another.
There are layers of justifying and claiming innocence in our will to control.
However, power is always being exercised. Whether one sits still or speaks or takes up arms or sleeps, this takes power.
Social power is the reality of social worlds. Since our social worlds are complex, we must learn to engage complexity.
So Barry Lopez asks us to welcome the ineffable, the unknown, wonder, diversity; to question loss and how it comes to be.
A different imagination begins with questions we must ask ourselves. What, in our worldview, is assumed to be real, coherent and universal?
If we begin examining, we see that everything is fragile.
This fragility is feared in our present world. Being fragile can be socially seen as weak. This also comes into play when we work with identity, gender, and masculinity. The assumptions of what is considered ‘strong’ and what is necessary to ‘hold things together’ and to ‘protect.’
Protection is something we must do sometimes. But I feel that in the present realities, we protect way too much. Often, we do not know that we are protecting anything. On the other hand, an ‘everything is okay’ attitude is also a way of not committing, not making a mistake, and not being seen as one thing or another. Often, we may even say we are ‘free’ when we say this to ourselves. But it masks a value of non-commitment and intensifies alienation and brings nothing deep or lasting because that is what is desired. It is a slavery to a certain moment when one decides that this is an effective strategy to resist something that has happened. It is no more free than any other method.
To work with difference, to struggle with how we are complicit in the loss and violence in the world, would make us examine closely, our process of self-making as individuals and communities, and begin challenging our own assumptions and at the same time discovering new things. These new possibilities may also not be new. They are often ‘old’ or ‘ancient’ things that have been discarded and killed and excluded in the past. Indeed, they may be things that have been twisted into something else through the passage of life. As we begin working, I think that we begin to recognize these things, and to welcome the deepening of our lives. The way we are now, as Barry Lopez points to, will lead to more loss.
Perhaps this will be a way of making a self-hatred and a misanthropy–a hatred of people, into a global reality for some. They will be fulfilling their role in the world. As we begin a journey to change our imagination and imagine anew, perhaps we may change directions. In any case, it will be a struggle. And I say that in my own experience, it will be a beautiful challenge for ourselves and we will make new friends on new paths. We will no longer be colonized by the idea that it should be easy. We will move with the ecologies of mourning, reflection, recognition, and natural movements of time and the trees and the planets. It will not look one way. It could be urban, it could be in a grain of sand. We cannot know. All that must be done is to take the steps.