by W. Todd Kaneko
So Proudly We Hailed
from China, the silk road shredded
through every railroad crossing
because there is not enough opium
to make a Chinaman smell like a blossom
from Canada, where my mother was
once a girl yearning for America,
all shiny and pale. On the other side
of hope sprouts sorrow, ancestral
memory broken from clods the way
my mother’s hands tap dirt from roots
before replanting flowers in new soil.
When the rain comes, the worms squirm
from sodden ground because there is
not enough earth to contain them all
the way I don’t have enough body
to hold all the places we come from—
a scrap of prairie, a dark railyard, bleak
hotel rooms in Chinatown or Disneyland.
One day, when my son asks me
how his family ended up in America,
we will go out and pull weeds
from the garden. Dandelions are flowers,
I will tell him. They grow in our yard
and we don’t want them here.
I hope to take my son one day
to Idaho where our family learned
silence in that ramshackle town
we call Minidoka when no one is listening.
We will look for the outline
of our family’s barracks in the dirt—
a line of stones, a strip of rotted wood.
Today, I told a story to my son about that
pilgrimage to Minidoka where the crows
gathered as the names of the dead
were recited, caws and cackles louder
and louder until the last name was uttered—
then morning air, prairie hush. In the night
my son sometimes calls my name
until I go to him, like he is afraid
I will forget where he is. We all have
words we say for unearthly ears—call them
prayers, secrets, vows. Sometimes I say
my father’s name in the dark and hope
the birds will sing his name back to me.
W. Todd Kaneko is the author of The Dead Wrestler Elegies (Curbside Splendor 2014) and co-author of Poetry: A Writers’ Guide and Anthology (Bloomsbury Academic 2018). A Kundiman fellow, he co-edits Waxwing magazine and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan where he teaches at Grand Valley State University.