Sunday, November 20, 2011

Opening Ceremony

State House, Salem Oregon
On June 14 (Flag Day), I was invited by Representative Tomei of Milwaukie Oregon to read a poem at the Opening Ceremony for the Oregon State House of Representatives. I was delighted and a bit daunted by this request, but the clerk gave me very detailed instructions.

1. You have a two-minute time limit.

2. The two minutes is solely for your reading; it's not an opportunity to address the Members other than a simple 'thank you' or 'thank you for having me today.'

3. Your poem must meet the guidelines criteria and it is not for purposes of lobbying the Members for any political stance or issue.

4. The convening time is fluid, but I suggest you arrive at 10:00 a.m.

I arrived early and was shown to my reserved parking place. Climbing the steps to the multi-doored entryway made me feel like an insignificant citizen entering the cavernous Chamber of the Law. Everyone, however, welcomed me an an honored guest. Here's the poem I read from my newest book What Remains: Japanese Americans in Internment Camps with quilt artist Cathy Erickson.

WHAT REMAINS

They loaded us onto trucks bound for the camps
            took our homes, our possessions, our land
just because we were Japanese – Japanese Americans.

Two suitcases were all we were allowed for clothes
photos, keepsakes ­­– twenty years of our lives in America.
Your grandfather was taken right off his fishing boat.
I was cooking the evening meal when they came.
Your mother sat at the kitchen table studying for a test.

That night I cut strips of cloth from garments
I had to leave behind. And from them I sewed this quilt.
Each stitch, a remembrance ­­­– each square, rectangle a tribute
to nature’s bounty in the desolation of Heart Mountain.

I stitched in the comfort of kasuri,
the smell of wood smoke on rain-black nights,
of days when rain fell soft and even as my child’s breath.
I stitched in triangles of flowers from my wedding kimono.
And as I quilted, I whispered their names:  kiku, hagi, kikyĆ“
chrysanthemum, bush clover, Chinese bell flower.

How cheerful those curtains of plumeria, hibiscus that hung
in our bedroom, their perfume a dream of Hawaii. I sewed in
beauty and vertical rays of yellow, the sun that shone through
the barbed wire and the curtainless windows of our barracks.

The orange poppies were last, fashioned from your mother’s
hair ribbons. I planted them as an afterthought –
question marks blooming with hope.





1 comment:

  1. An absolutely fantastic poem--delicate and heart-wrenching.

    Sherry Reniker

    ReplyDelete