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this Tokyo poem has been knocking around in my head for two days.

February 8, 2010

I think it wants to be written. The veins of inspiration are two-fold: first, it snowed here, again. And a Richmonder acquaintance told me last spring that I simply MUST see the Japanese Gardens in the snow, because it made him nostalgic for Japan. Therefore, it is making me nostalgic for Japan. Only I’ve never been there. . . not really. The one time I can ‘say’ I’ve been to Japan, I was in the airport in Tokyo, having one of a series of my “first” panic attacks, on my way home from Beijing (three-and-a-half years ago). Inspiration number two comes in the form of a story my grandmother has told me a few times about a business trip in which she accompanied my grandfather to Tokyo, sometime in the 50’s (can’t you just see the clothes– gorgeous). During the trip she ruptured a disc in her spine, and flew the entire way home on her knees (in the aisle of the plane?).

So far, I have one page of yellow legal paper scrawled on in two different directions, trying to write this poem. I hit up against a dilemma that I frequently have in my writing: the family audience. I fictionalize family memories, and I get them wrong, whether purposefully or not. I shamelessly co-opt them as a kind of shared narrative, a collective history, from which I am privy to draw as I see fit. But these people, my family, own their memories more than I can, surely. So it is a violation of their own remembrances, their lives. But, of course, there doesn’t exist a memory that is not a fiction. It is fictionalized by every series of recollections and retellings. The author Amy Benson, talks about this in her memoir The Sparkling-Eyed Boy:

“we all want to be loved, but some of us are willing to gut our lives of secrets, their moist insides stiffening and cracking in the sun, then look, like a dog, for approval. some of us are willing never to live a moment again until we’ve inked it on the page. some of us don’t know how else to live.”

I hold onto this quote like a talisman; it reveals that what I am is an abhorrent memory-thief and an artist. Both are true. So I press on, in the only way I know how: write what you know, and what has been handed to you. So, a very rough draft, and a fragment of another:


Someone told me once
to visit the Japanese gardens
in the snow. I’ve built nostalgia
for the scene, for the island

nation I’ve never truly seen.
Replace the view of a clean
hall, lined in clear plastic tulip-chairs.
My body stretched across, my face

tucked in a crumpled paper bag,
breathing cardboard fibers, eating
dried wasabi peas, wishing this was not
my Tokyo. Wishing Tokyo was the maples

in snow, like it should be.


My mother is an Amazon,
disfigured for the war, by the war,
doubly– once to fight, once to regain
the symmetry each body is owed.

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