FEARLESS AT 90 a poem by Yuri Kageyama

Photo by On Lim Wong

FEARLESS AT 90 a poem by Yuri Kageyama

I am fearless at 90

Wrinkles deep as the Nile

Hair translucent spiderwebs

Varicose veins throbbing blood

A map of fate on a carcass of skin

I am fearless at 90 

I rap poetry with my dentures

Jazz dance with my wobbly knees

I rock like Jimi Hendrix

We Boomers invented Revolution

I am fearless at 90

I’m so close to the pearly gates

I’m on speaking terms with the angels

I’m so near-sighted I read minds

My fungus breath slays dragons

I am fearless at 90

My wheelchair zips Ferrari-style

My voice resonates five octaves low

My cane duplicates as a samurai sword

My hearing aid just blocks out noise

I am fearless at 90  

I have no appointments to keep

No bosses to please

No dates to impress

No one can put me down

I am fearless at 90

I barely remember what’s up or down

Or who is where anymore;

Beyond gender, race, class,

Or even age

I am fearless at 90

My skin like washi paper

My fingers gnarled like a witch

I am neither man nor woman

White, black, brown or yellow.

I am just 90, and fearless:

Those days are long gone,

Not trusting anyone over 30,

I’ve given birth to a thousand children

And have a million grandchildren

I am fearless at 90

Although death is around the corner,

I’ve seen war and peace

Endured abuse to survive;

Don’t expect or need respect

I’m proud to be fearless at 90


Note from the poet:

I am not yet 90, but I feel this way and wrote this poem.

When I’m 90, I will write my real fearless at 90 poem.

What it means to be a woman of color _ A poem by Yuri Kageyama

photo by Naokazu Oinuma

What it means to be a woman of color _ A poem by Yuri Kageyama

It’s the John Coltrane quartet all in one

Spiritual like Jimmy Garrison’s bass

McCoy Tyner’s resonant chords

The smarts of Elvin, the Love Supreme of the saxophone:

We can be all things, and more, just to get a chance to show we can play


It’s the courage of the 442 all in one  

That integrity to raise one’s hand to serve

Even out of an arid desert “internment” camp,

Defying death, our Purple Hearts, wounds of body and soul:   

We work a hundred, thousand times harder to prove we are American


It’s Martin Luther King’s dream all in one

We may fall to an assassin’s hatred

Our honor smeared by fake allegations

But we still stand, for freedom, and forgive every one:

We still have that, in us, despite what you have done to us.  

SOME PEOPLE a poem by Yuri Kageyama

Artwork by Munenori Tamagawa

SOME PEOPLE a poem by Yuri Kageyama

Some people are Poison
In sheer Presence
Even from afar
Some people are Garbage
A stench of Gibberish
Even from afar
Some people are Ineffectual
A blob hanger-on
Even from afar
Some people are Broken
A Godzillion pieces
Never whole again
Some people are Forgotten
Hidden unbleedingly silent
Into the flesh of scars
Some people are Music
Wafting healing savory sweet
Even from afar


Artwork by Munenori Tamagawa

Artwork by Munenori Tamagawa

What: I read my poetry/story “The Very Special Day” while Munenori Tamagawa paints to guitar by Yuuichiro Ishii.
Where: Nagai Garou’s Tachikawa Gallery 1-25-24 Nishi Building 4 Fl Fujimicho Tachikawa, Tokyo TEL: 080‐9573‐5655
When: SAT Oct. 28, 2017 from 3 p.m. Reception party follows from 4:30 p.m ~ 6 p.m.
Who: Munenori Tamagawa, “the Basquiat of Japan,” has shown his work at the Seattle Art Fair, Tachikawa Art Brut and the streets of Tokyo, including Innokashira Park and the Shiodome Art Market.
Guitarist Yuuichiro Ishii, who studied recently at the Berklee College of Music on a prestigious scholarship, has performed with Fuyu, Mika Nakashima and Yusa, as well as my Yuricane spoken-word band.
Why: To celebrate the exhibition of Munenori Tamagawa’s recent works.
More What: Last year, Munenori Tamagawa and I created the children’s book THE VERY SPECIAL DAY, which brings together my story with his illustrations. More information on our evolving collaboration.
Artists make any day a very special day when we come together.

Video by Naomi Yoshida

Photo by Seiko

Photo by Seiko

The Apology _ A poem by Yuri Kageyama

The Apology
_ A poem by Yuri Kageyama

My voice screaming banzai
Ten thousand years banzai
Dying in glee as the divine devil wind
For the crane god whose voice I heard too late

My hand piercing your baby
A glob of meat with my bayonet
Raping girls in the name of comfort
Burning a city like a Sherman deranged

My heart that worships history
To win status as an honorary white
Bleeding streaks from a fluttering red sun
Despising those of the same yellow skin

My voice
My hand
My heart

My voice will never speak that way again
My hand will never act that way again
My heart will never feel that way again
No apology is enough but I promise
And I apologize

My latest is in KONCH magazine, an Ishmael Reed and Tennessee Reed publication

My prose poem “Dec. 12, 2012, The Very Special Day _ a Prose Poem” gets published in the October issue of KONCH magazine, an Ishmael Reed and Tennessee Reed publication. It is a story about the discrimination in Japan against Japanese Americans. It is also a story of survival. It is a story about defying discrimination. And I am in great company in this publication with the likes of Alejandro Murguia and Ishmael Hope.

Little YELLOW Slut

Some people, when I ask them to sing along to my poem, don’t want to utter the dreaded words: “Little YELLOW Slut.” Good people don’t want to repeat derogatory phrases. But it’s OK. This is a Poem: saying it will make discrimination, racists and sexists, all evil thoughts go away _ like “oharai” by the shaman.

Transcending age, sex and race

When we get old, very very old, so old we are covered with wrinkles and our skin is pale and our breasts shrivel and droop and an old man looks and smells no different from an old woman, do we finally and once and for all transcend the barriers of sex and race?
By succumbing to the all-unifying power of age and soon-to-come death, do we victoriously overcome the hurt of sex and the murder of race and the divisions we must inherit as legacy of mankind like the taint of original sin?
When we get up in morning and look at what looks back at us in the mirror, will we no longer fear society’s taunts for how we look and for the petty but definitive prisons of groupings for which we stand and must represent?
Will we at last have the choice of being nothing and so be someone who will not be defined by sex and race, and it will no longer matter whether you are man or woman, black, white or yellow?

Miwa Yanagi is one of my favorite artists because she addresses those very inner thoughts that have always tormented me. She has young women enact how they see themselves as old ladies and takes their portraits. Elevator girls and Amazonian women are other images she evokes for her powerful message. Yanagi never loses her delicate sensitivity and raw energy. She faces those fears head-on while the rest of us cower in shame and self-destruction.

Noticing accents

I’d come home from international school, excited I had made a friend. I was puzzled one of the first questions my mother would ask was: What nationality is she? I had to think hard for an answer. I hadn’t thought to ask. But she wouldn’t stop probing: What color of hair does she have? Does she speak Japanese? What is her last name?
In hindsight, now that I am an adult, this sounds unbelievable. But I often couldn’t remember what color hair she had _ maybe it was brownish? black? The most important thing _ the only thing that mattered, and I was maybe 10 years old, 8? _ was that I had found this person who for some reason liked me and was now my friend. Why didn’t adults understand that this was what I wanted to talk about, not what nationality she was, or what color of eyes she had so we could figure out what nationality she was?
This may sound bizarre. But many people who attended international schools at a young age have the same experience. Of course, we knew that people came in different sizes and colors and had different preferences for what they liked to eat or do. But it was a mixed up blur of so many ways to distinguish people _ the tone of their voice, their laugh, their skills in coming up with games _ that big words like the Philippines, Iran, America, China, Zambia, whatever, were just tongue-twister that didn’t seem half as interesting as the other, more fun ways to tell kids apart.
This is not as bizarre as it sounds. Scientists have found that Japanese babies learn very quickly not to pay attention to the difference between Rs and Ls. That doesn’t matter in the Japanese language. For the same reason languages must be acquired early, a child learns what to pay attention to and what not to notice. The world is such a buzz of information, how we discriminate must be learned.
The innocent world, however transient or artificial, where nationality doesn’t matter, felt so comfortable that when I learned it wasn’t real _ or encountered cases when I had to finally face up to the fact that it wasn’t ever real _ it was painful. It was more painful because I had gotten a taste of that innocent world. If I hadn’t, I’d probably have accepted it with a shrug, the same way I wouldn’t know the difference between Rs and Ls. I can roll my Rs like a salsa singer.
In Japan, a nation that prides itself on being homogeneous and harmonious, horror stories abound of children of Chinese or Korean ancestry routinely being harassed by Japanese, stalked daily, beaten, taunted. And they aren’t even a different race.
Once acquired, the art of discrimination is something people thrive on, “ijime” that engrosses the masses.
I don’t know why being discriminated for race or ethnicity or sex hurts so much more than being discriminated for performance or personal choices, even looks, another genetically determined feature. But it does. It makes me feel so vulnerable, as though I have been stripped naked, and I can’t fight back. In Sociology, we learn race and sex are what we call “master traits.” That means other qualities a person may acquire, such as education or career experience, can never ever ever override what is predetermined about that person by race and sex. It is more important in society that someone is black or yellow or white or that someone is male or female than that person happens to be an astronaut or a gangster. Can you imagine that? To me, that is ridiculously bizarre. I want everyone to learn from that child who rushes back to tell her mother she just found a friend _ never mind what nationality she is.

Whence virtuosity

Poet and novelist Ishmael Reed once said he read to an audience two poems _ one by a Nobel laureate and another by one of his students _ and asked for a show of hands to guess which was by whom.
Opinion was 50-50, which goes to show no one can tell on virtuosity.
After all, a toilet seat becomes art supreme if Duchamp puts it in the backdrop of a fancy museum.
Juxtaposing gems from the amateur with stuck up award-winners is a joy.
It challenges status quo definitions of what is and what isn’t _ the basic purpose of art to start with.
The unfortunate thing is: A toilet seat is just that _ a toilet seat, if there is no Duchamp and there is no museum.
That’s why it is so difficult and risky to test such waters in art.
But if and when you can pull it off, you will be able to create something unique, almost by definition, because most of what you see in art is about following what went before you and got the stamp of approval that it is indeed art and not just a toilet seat.
I have written before about the live music scene in Tokyo.
Watching the young musicians, who all have other jobs and boast absolutely no technical virtuosity as we know it in the West, made me wonder why that community existed and what it was about Japan that created that _ as well as what that meant as far as definitions of art.
I called the phenomenon the Tokyo Flower Children.
Virtuosity is obviously important in art.
But I also realized it’s not as important as one may think, especially in this day and age when razzle-dazzle can be packaged, commercialized and bought with money (relatively affordable) like a Cirque de Soleil show (which isn’t really art at all _ at least the old-style circus had the elephants and the clowns).
These peacefully wayward Japanese kids are products of an extremely rigid and conformist society that is rapidly unraveling and no longer promising success for all, even if you follow all the rules to the T and prove you will sacrifice individuality for the good of the team.
They are rejecting the package.
They have chosen to be artists.
And to me, there is no doubt they are really artists.
I must thank them for helping me realize that the most important thing about art is that sincerity.
And they certainly have that.
The choice.
The courage to choose.
The vision to see beyond what is being handed to them.
That is what is being sought among the audience at Tokyo live-houses, who are for the most part just their peers.
Art with a capital “A” is proving incapable of moving beyond the market and the galleries catering to the rich.
Art must reach and be about real people.
But whether this kind of art that throws virtuosity out the window can provide anything more than a psychologically therapeutic outlet for the participants remains to be seen.
Look at me! (for technique) surely isn’t enough.
But will anyone look if there is no virtuosity at all?
Can you prove value beyond delivering slices-of-life samplings of anthropological curiosity?
And isn’t thinking that you can mold virtuous art out of the everyday _ a la Duchamp _ the most arrogant approach to self-expression?
But I don’t think it’s dishonest or incorrect.
And arrogance, or at least confidence in what you believe, goes with the territory.