by Laurel Nakanishi
I will not hide the hollow bodies of my prairie ancestors, those wrapped up in gun-smoke out where it is never really blue or cloudless. I have their muddied green eyes, their nose pinched against cold. My clothes bunched out as theirs, but I don’t double-knot my apron. I have none.
And the Japanese blood? They never quite made it to America. After weeks at sea – the moon always just cupped to the horizon – Japan rose steadily in their minds. It became a nostalgia, a stubborn dream, a floating island – they moved in. And there were the tofu peddlers, the udon shops, the bent knees and flat hands. By the time they docked in Hawaii, they carried that island with them – an anchor home.
From them: my dark hair, slim neck, but no certain turn to the eyes. A love of pattern: rice then tea, the food not touching, and each to its plate.
In Japan, old ladies squint into my face searching, perhaps, for something like their own grandchildren. In Nicaragua, boys on the street wolf-whistle and call: “Hey little Chinagirl.” In Montana, I am not-quite-white but white enough.
I take my beggar bowl and go wandering. Strangers toss in their turns of phrase, their home food, their festival dancing. And I weave them into my hair – these trinkets and misunderstandings.
Laurel Nakanishi is the recipient of a Fulbright scholarship to Nicaragua. She is the author of the prize-winning poetry chapbook Manoa|Makai and her work has appeared in Black Warrior Review, Fourth Genre, and Gulf Coast Magazine, among other publications. Originally from Hawaii, Nakanishi currently lives in Miami, FL.