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notes on the return: Two Poems by James Fujinami Moore

Question: with sharp enough clippers, can you help / any tree grow small? With sharp enough clippers, can you outlive your / kids?

February 18, 2020

notes on the return

after m. washington

back /
to go back / to go back to the
place you have come from /
to the place you have come
from return / to return /
return as a swallow might / a
swallow might fly as young
as eighteen days / eighteen
days out from our journey
here you had a camera / a
camra / a cmra in my hand i
am recording / i am
recording a man he is being
arrested / being arrested he
has no hands but he screams
/ he screams get back / get
back to where you have
come from / where you have
come from there are more
trees / trees holding their
nests / nests above the
sidewalk / the sidewalk my
front door / my front door
once we found a fledgling
that had fallen / fallen or
been pushed / pushed out the
door my lover held it in her
hands she lined a shoebox
with soft she brought it
limping to the shelter / to the
shelter but it died / it died
across the island six miles as
the swallow flies / the
swallow flies two hundred
miles on a clear good day /
on a clear good day someone
says to return / to return to
the place you have come
from / the place you have
come from a beat fast and
dying / dying between two
cupped hands

notes on the phrase shikata ga nai, written after a Colorado state representative says in 2017 that the internment camps were justified because “in the heat of battle there isn’t time to distinguish who is a citizen and who is not”, or: it cannot be helped.

I am so tired of talking about Manzanar.
Lord, let me talk about anything
else instead. The moon, the sea, even fucking flowers
I’d rather write than these desert stories muled as a kid,
old as black bile, a myth, America,
of your forgiveness, of what couldn’t be helped.

That phrase in rōmaji, it cannot be helped
engraved on stones they sell at the gift shops in Manzanar
alongside baseballs, tiddlywinks, tin American
planes with their tin tiny bombs, anything
a souvenir, a replica poster for the kids
saying where to go, hiding behind the “Japanese-style” flower

vase on sale. Some days I say history and mean ikebana.
Sometimes bonsai. Question: with sharp enough clippers, can you help
any tree grow small? With sharp enough clippers, can you outlive your kids?
A tree is a reflection. In the bark, ōoji’s unendurable face. Before Manzanar,
there were strawberries. After, there were also strawberries. Anything
can be celebrated with strawberries in America,

your fields promising red on your lips, your teeth. America,
I still whisper this poem. In your heart even the sakura
blooms for your old dead soldiers, everything
pink, everything brief. The Paiute lived here before Manzanar,
were removed,     and returned,           and helped
build too. You conscripted our dying to dig our graves. Each boy

giving their mute answer to the guards, each boy
saying yes     saying    no      no. Our traitors
fought for you, America. They just wanted to go home.
Where I’m from there’s no cherry trees, just dead wisteria
washed in drought. At Manzanar
I was a garden, I was a maid, I sold groceries, bled rabbits, all

blooms with a spade. I was your issei, your nisei, your sansei
I was your viper-hatched son.
Question: Hast thou gods before me? When have you prayed?
According to your survey, my Americanness is irrational.
They say you planted victory gardens
in our absence. They say you’ll let us return.

Great-uncle says the suffering helped, America.
He gave his kids his citizen pride. Today only flowers
bloom over his grave. He went blind too, after Manzanar.