blank spaces over generations _ a poem by Yuri Kageyama

blank spaces over generations
a poem by Yuri Kageyama

my father was
slapped for
buying a
book of
poems
that his father
thought was
a rip-off _
so many
blank spaces
on
each
page

i was
a poet
long before i
became
anything else
so i didn’t
worry about
money or how i
was going
to make a living or
all the
blank
spaces

my son is
a drummer
he doesn’t yet
know the
blank spaces
of the world
are a gift
from that
grandfather
who was beaten for
a book
of
poems

The Crooked Smile _ a poem by Yuri Kageyama

The Crooked Smile
_ a poem by Yuri Kageyama

You smiled
Suddenly
In the silence after your first breath of a wail
So still and serious,
Testing the corner muscles of your mouth
Forgetting for a moment your instinct to suckle
Looking with your miracle almond eyes into my eyes,
Hello
Hello
Hello
Pleased to meet you.
A tiny crooked
But perfect
Smile.
They say:
Newborns don’t smile for weeks.
I decide
you are just a genius.

A Facebook Post Upon Reading a Facebook Post

A Facebook Post Upon Reading a Facebook Post
_ a poem by Yuri Kageyama

I saw your post about not wanting children.
I do feel bad.
But more than that
I feel I understand exactly how you feel as that is how I felt all through my 20s, actually until I had you.
Then I knew or I think I knew that having you was the most wonderful thing that had happened in my life.
I just feel bad you feel the wa
y you do _ not only because we were “bad” parents and didn’t give you a bright happy childhood full with Elmo smiles _ but more because I was exactly that kind of person, like you, who didn’t want children at all.
The world is such a horrible place and what child would want to come into such a horrible place?
And if parents are all imperfectly human, then how could any parent live up to the task?
I am exploring these ideas and more in the writing that I am doing now and always have _ since you were born.
Maybe that is selfish because a child is real with real needs, not like writing which is more unreal than real.
But I am convinced more than ever that you are the best thing that happened in my life.
And it is not anything that you will do or you will become or you will say or feel.
Nothing can change this simple fact.
It is beyond any explanation or any argument or any question.
It is so very unreal.
And real.
Like Music.
And so maybe someday you will have that magic of a child.
Somewhere inside of you from where your music is born a child is waiting to be born _ to you.

Japanophile Part 2 A Story by Yuri Kageyama

The toys piled up, evidence being submitted to prove an absent mother’s love.
The colorful trading cards were those warm hugs that were never given, the video-game cassettes in the dozens were those sleepless feverish nights forgotten, and the tiny cars that scuttled across the linoleum threatening to trip adult feet were those lullabies that fell silent. I wanted to prove I loved my toddler son, still too young to understand that I needed those hours away to pay the rent.
“When are you going to quit your job?” he would ask now and then, choosing a quiet moment he knows will get my full attention.
This is a serious question to be contended with. I want to cry. I would quit right now, if I could. But I don’t know how to tell him that.
His legs are starting to break out in hives, and because he scratches at his raw skin with his little clawlike nails, his calves are constantly bleeding.
Once I got a call from the social welfare office, wondering what’s going on. The doctor that I take him to for these allergies, as that’s what it is that is causing this itching, is giving me funny stares.
“My mommy doesn’t come home for a loooooong loooooong time,” I hear my son telling the doctor in his usual high-pitched singsong voice.
I was able to take some time off work the first few years after his birth. I dutifully followed the advice of La Leche League to breast-feed him as long as he wanted, or almost as long as he wanted, which turned out to be two years, after which I had to decide this was it.
He would cuddle next to my breast, sucking although he had grown to be more a little boy than a baby, staring into my eyes with total trust and the glee of possession, sometimes biting my nipple with his teeth or pulling with clamped lips until I had to ask him to stop. His looks said he was proud to have this privilege, especially because he no longer needed the nourishment.
A woman who happened to walk by remarked, “Oh, you are not working? So he doesn’t know the reality that is waiting for him; does he?”
I clearly remember the I-know-it-all expression of superiority on her face as though she had appointed herself a shaman fortune-teller, as do all those working women who went before me.
At least, they get to do that _ tell others what’s coming.
Even after my son started school, he didn’t really have a mother. I found out his friends were asking him: “Do you have a mother?”
It was a cruel, brutally straightforward question that children have a way of coming up with, but it was a valid question.
If others had moms picking them up and making nice lunches, and he didn’t, where was this mother?
Where was I for this child? Did this make me really a mother? Did I just want a child so I could have a child but without doing the job of being a mother?
I had to wipe the thought out of my mind when I was working. I had to forget.
Forgetting, you’d think, is something that happens naturally, what you thought you had tucked away in memory, some fold in your gray matter, slipping away. Oh, I forgot. But this was a different kind of forgetting.
It took a lot of concentration. But I was able to forget. If I did not forget, I would have lost my mind.
But I did forget.
But was this child able to forget?
Or did he have to fight the gnawing loneliness with all his might, fighting back tears and telling himself: “My mommy doesn’t come home for a loooooong loooooong time,” over and over?
It makes me afraid.
I cannot imagine such loneliness. To be a child and not have a mother. To be that tiny dot in the sky like a star all by itself in the universe and not know what is up or down, or if and when this horror will ever end.
To know not only that you are alone but that you are alone in this loneliness, that every other boy and girl had a mommy, that soft warm cuddly woman who came to pick kids up and made nicely decorated lunches.
How could a little mind forget? Even with all the colorful cards, games and tiny cars, reminding you that I do love you, how could he ever forget?
In his high school, there was one day hot lunch was not served, some strange practice to encourage parent-child bonding. My son didn’t even tell me.
I happened to see him jump into a convenience store to buy his lunch. That’s how I found out.
I felt a hot gush of guilt and sorrow as though it was enveloping me from the top of my head, the strange feeling I felt when I watched my father eat or my sister cry over nothing, when I was growing up.
I still have not figured out what this emotion meant. It tasted sour, like tiny pieces of glass, inside my mouth.

Proud Mom: Isaku in action in Boston

A Link to Isaku in action at Berklee College of Music in Boston with Sumie Kaneko on shamisen.
And two more clips on this blog. Thanks for posting.

Denouement _ a poem by Yuri Kageyama

Denouement
a Poem by Yuri Kageyama

You are curled up, tight, still, in fetal position, eyes closed but seeing red blindness, throbbing flesh, deep inside our stomachs, so entrenched within, but disjointed, expanding _ like our pain, infinite like solar systems in the universe.
I was already there in that moment.
We shared in that secret of knowing, knowing you will be born, someday, before anyone else knew, and then grow up and become man _ or woman _ with a yelping gasping flash-of-light wail, the newborn’s cry in that first breath, and recognizing from the very start that you will, someday, have this same joy and same pain, growing inside you and being born.
It doesn’t matter you will make towers. You will make music. You will make computer programs. You will make money. You will make babies.
It doesn’t matter you will be a pillar of society. You will be an outcast. You will win rewards. You will be abused as a stranger.
It doesn’t matter you will witness a great northern earthquake, although it is a once-in-a-century disaster setting off a torrent of outraged water that turns farmland into mud, buildings and homes into rubble, and quiet untouched happy towns into ghost towns, untouched but covered with radiation.
I was there, with you, before it all _ in that redness and blackness and all seeing blindness, that was here and everywhere, bleeding and beating and breathing and being, inside my uterus, that spot near my navel that connects with your navel, before and even after your terrified newborn cry.
This is the same cosmos inside the bodies of all mothers, where we fall in our slumber, snuggling against our blankets, the safe and eternal place we visit that are called dreams after we awaken.
This is the same cosmos gyrating in the resonance of the giant taiko drum, shaking and deafening that we hear and understand every note like our mother’s heartbeat.
The otherworldly world that awaits behind the mirror in a Tadanori Yokoo painting, the crooked road not taken behind that church in a Vincent Van Gogh painting _ a world from this end we fear might be the Michelangelo hell of a nuclear meltdown with faces and arms peeled, stunted and contaminated by an erring god scientists will never admit was provoked by anything other than a mother’s mistake, or else it could smell like lotuses and incense and honeyed candles, sinking into a Claude Monet lake of sheer light and blindness that is canvas and museum walls no more but total artist’s vision.
This is the same cosmos where ghosts with long black hair reside, sometimes standing besides riverside willow trees weeping about betrayal, while at other times mysteriously saving children from car crashes as benevolent all-knowing ancestors.
After all these years, I finally know this is where I return when I die.
To be with you again, all the time, in that moment of eternity that is before birth, so perfectly connected we don’t need to speak or breathe or remember.

Haiku by Yuri Kageyama

Haiku by Yuri Kageyama

a blue plastic bag
so hard so still no more
Tokyo train tracks

in my deathly dreams
your sweet breath, fat knees, wet hands
a child forever

timeless tweet timeline
scroll blindly touch-panel light
mumbles of loneliness

I wrote these recently, the last one just a few seconds ago.
The first one is about the body bags that we see lying by the railroad tracks because a fair number of Japanese people commit suicide by flinging themselves in front of commuter trains.
It is stunning how the bags have an eerily impersonal color, and they are motionless and rigid.
But you can tell for some reason that it is a body in there, nothing else.
There is nothing that we can do as witnesses except to pray.
The body bags are a constant reminder of the otherworldly closeness of death amid the mundane like riding the commuter train to work.
They seem to increase during the winter months _ maybe because cold is more depressing than warm, especially if you are feeling down, and maybe because the year-end and New Year’s holiday season comes as a stark reminder of how extremely alone a lonely person really is.
My third poem is about Twitter, which I do quite actively because it is encouraged on my job.
I see how people want to connect to others, not just the people they know in real life, but to others they will never meet.
It’s called networking, and it shows how the world is a small place in this rapidly globalizing age.
As the world turns, the iPhone touch-panel whirls under your fingertips as you scroll the Twitter timeline, showing comments from all over the world, mostly about nothing, and photos of dinners and lunches and sunsets and pets.
It is a cool technology and a convenient tool.
But it is also about how people are alone but can’t stand to be by themselves.
People are lonely.
The poem in-between is about my recurring dreams, where my son, who is fully grown in his 20s, is still a toddler.
My little boy.
I wake up, looking for him, almost panicked, wondering if he is OK, and then I am relieved there is no need to worry.
It is just a dream.
I have always believed death would be like a dream, except you never wake up.
And so I realize these dreams are a reminder that I am still always reliving motherhood, though I am just growing older and getting closer to death.
I’m reliving that moment of motherhood, with my son being that eternal child, and death will not be an end at all but a recurring dream.
I feel as though I am going backward in time.
Life has no beginning or end.
Death is just a string of pockets of different dreamlike moments, in no particular order, in and out, falling and flying and rising, being lost in a blurry faraway dream.

Previous Haiku by Yuri Kageyama.

behold the egg

behold the egg
a poem by Yuri Kageyama

behold the egg
boil it with a pinch of salt
for the simplest meal
full of Vitamin D
behold the egg
paint it pink, blue, green
to hide and find for Easter
remember resurrection
behold the egg
embraced by a brittle shell
the secret of life
not quite round but whole
behold the egg
waiting blind and eyeless
for a blind, eyeless sperm
to give birth that can finally see
behold the egg
behold the egg

Annette Borromeo Dorfman


Annette has been my friend for a long time because we used to ride the Chuo Line together to go to high school in Tokyo.
She is also a great artist.
This is one of her recent works.
Doesn’t it look like someone went back in time and was there to take a photo of “Madonna and Child” and painted inspired by that photo like a magical-realist/photo-realist?
Isn’t it a quirky but an absolutely sublime mix of old and new, the profound and the everyday?
The faces in her paintings are self-portraits as mother/woman/believer/goddess/artist/
because all art is about that.
This painting already got sold.
But there are others, which can be seen on her Facebook link.

The Empty Library (from Motherhood Notes)


Photo (today) by Annette Dorfman. My column (from way back) in the Hokubei Mainichi:

“I’m Christopher Robin, and you’re Pooh, OK, Mommy?”
Most likely, other 3-year-olds besides ours have the same fantasies. But it is the solitary plight of the non-white in America that the mother must experience a tinge of anxiety about ethnic self-hate. Perhaps she comforts herself that the illustrations of the blond blue-eyed hero in the A.A. Milne classic are black and white ink drawings.
Fortunately I am bilingual, so I can at least resort to Japanese books. Children’s books in English that deal with Asian or Asian American themes are few.
The recent “Wings for Lai Ho” by Genny Lim and “Pie Biter” by Ruthanne Lum McCunn _ both well-written and enjoyable _ are set in historical immigration days. The drawings by Andrea Ja in the former contrast favorably to the more typical and stereotypical versions of Asian features _ not only by Caucasian artists, including Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak, but also Asian Americans such as Chester Yoshida for Mei Nakano’s slant-eyed “Riko Rabbit.”
Some works by Yoshiko Uchida take place in Japan, and a rural out-dated Japan at that. For a San Francisco boy of the 80s, whose primary interests range from break-dancing to comic book superheroes, all the above-mentioned stories are as exotic as they are to average “hakujin.”
Gyo Fujikawa is an exception in depicting children in regular modern-day activities such as brushing teeth or climbing the jungle gym, and he draws them with Caucasian, black or Asian physical features. However, aimed for very young “readers,” his picture books do not go beyond the visual impact of UNICEF cards that show multiracial children in harmony.
Taro Yashima’s tender “Umbrella” is another rare example of a modern Asian American story that does not rest on an exotic “foreign” or historical (sociological) theme.
Yashima and Uchida are both award-winning creators of children’s books. Nevertheless, a weakness of language can be sensed in both, that is, in contrast to the power of feeling in the classics of E.B. White (“Charlotte’s Web”), Kenneth Graham (“The Wind in the Willows”), Hugh Lofting (“Dr. Doolittle”), Beatrix Potter (“Peter Rabbit”), L. Frank Baum (“The Wizard of Oz”) and even the sparse, more poetic styles of Dr. Seuss, Shel Silversein or Margaret Wise Brown.
As a so-called “model minority” that has produced its share of coroners, astronauts and senators, Japanese Americans have never boasted cultural sophistication as their strong point. Who are our equivalents of Miles Davis, Martha Graham, Jasper Johns, or even Prince? Our cultural output is low, both in terms of quantity and quality. Never has the tragedy of our cultural vacuum struck me more profoundly than in thinking of our son’s future.
Of course, we struggle. We take him to hear Russel Baba blow his Asian soul out to us through his saxophone. Isaku has already attended concerts by the Nohbuddies, the Asian American Dance Collective, Kei Takei, the Kalilang Ensemble and many others. We are still hoping for a local revival of Philip Gotanda’s “Avocado Kid.”
Asian American culture exists. But not enough to make it easy to teach a growing child that being an artist is exciting, dignified and meaningful. Particularly as an Asian in a country that is not overly cultured to begin with.
Japanese Americans are rapidly assimilating. We are rapidly losing our cultural ties with our ancestral roots. And loss of a unique language is lethal for a poet. (The potency of black English in poetry, drama and prose proves that “language ” here does not necessarily have to be Japanese.) But, instead of weeping over our culture’s diluting into the mainstream, we cheer it on as a sign of our success in blending into a smug oneness with monolithic America.
The poet Ronald Tanaka was one of the first to deal with the problem of audience and the resultant isolation of the Sansei artist. Now a father of two daughters, he is busily writing poems and stories for them to read because, as previously stated, there just isn’t much that really speaks to them.
It comes to this: If the culture to which we wish to expose our daughters and sons doesn’t exist, we have to create it ourselves. Part of my responsibility as a parent is to try to see that my child survives, not only economically, but also as a full human being who is proud of what he is.
The crimes of racism include unequal wealth distribution, askewed employment patterns, disproportionate alcoholism and infant mortality; but the crime of racism is also that it makes us less than human _ not quite human _ for a community without poets (read: painters, musicians, dancers, etc.) is dead.
I am not advocating Japanese American cultural fascism or ethnocentric fanaticism. (Actually such concepts are absurd, given the material reality.) I have not forgotten that America _ the beautiful America _ is multicultural, where each culture enriches the other.
What I want to teach my Nikkei son is the Japanese rhythm of language, the Japanese psyche or spirit, the way we feel, the way we breathe and live. Though I have no easy answers as to what that entails, I believe in my responsibility as an artist and parent because I have to. To me, cultural survival is life or death.