Featured Poem II • June 2014

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Nisei

 

Beth Cato

 
 

grandpa used to say he joined the army to be like all the other boys he signed up from Manzanar “I was as American as them” he served in Japan after the bombs dropped he brought the kappa back to California said he found its pond nearly dried up the house nearby a shattered ruin he made the kappa a new garden gravel rocks raked in sinuous swirls cherry maple leaves like blood upon the velvet carpet of moss pond warmed by the Valencia sun I would visit and bring cucumbers to plunk on lily pad-capped water the kappa grabbed the vegetables with his long, webbed fingers his skin green and slick like a frog a fringed pate crowned his head and held the water that kept him alive they played jokes on each other grandpa and the water imp a string of trip wire across the path grandpa's favorite chair, water-soaked a gentle friendship of fifty years but the kappa never touched the American flag there in the center of the garden sometimes the two of them sat there in evenings tea cup nestled on the swell of grandpa’s belly kappa crouched at water’s edge red, white, and blue rippling in pink twilight saying nothing, everything

 

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Beth CatoBeth Cato’s debut steampunk novel The Clockwork Dagger will be released by HarperCollins Voyager in September 2014. She’s originally from Hanford, California, but now resides in Arizona with her husband and son. Her short fiction, poetry, and tasty cookie recipes can be found at http://www.bethcato.com.

About “Nisei,” she says, “I grew up listening to my grandpa’s tales of his time in World War II as he served in India and China. This poem is written from the perspective of a different grandchild, whose grandfather served under very different, very difficult constraints. The plight of nisei (“second generation”) Japanese of that time period isn’t often addressed, and as a writer, I know I can never do justice to what they experienced. I can’t help but think of my own grandpa—a proud Okie raised in California—and what the American flag meant to him. He would look at that flag and gaze away to a place I could never see. I hope, at least, I did justice to that feeling here.”

 

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