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Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column

Place / Location

This month, we feature just one writer and a beloved one to the Discover Nikkei space at that—Chicago native, Erik Matsunaga. Erik’s piece is a simple moment between old childhood pals and one that sets an image of “home” or places of significance that are, at once, transient and meaningful…enjoy.

—traci kato-kiriyama

* * * * *

Erik Matsunaga is a Chicago-born fourth generation Nikkei American of Japanese and German descent. In addition to regular contributions to Discover Nikkei, his extensive research into Chicago’s Japanese American community has been most recently featured on WBEZ Chicago Public Radio’s The Afternoon Shift and the Alphawood Gallery’s exhibit, Then They Came for Me. A former graphic designer and small press publisher, he currently works in the manufacturing sector, rides BMX, and manages Ravenswood Shorin-ryu Karate Dojo. He resides with his wife and children on Chicago’s North Side.

 

Reunion

It had been nearly sixty years
since Al, a Nisei octogenarian,
had been back to his hometown -
a small farming community
in California’s Central Valley.

Forcibly removed to Arizona
in his early twenties,
Al had resettled in Chicago,
trading his agricultural roots
for an industrial future
in the Midwestern Rust Belt.

The death of his brother-in-law
prompted his return.

Standing in a buffet line
at the post-funeral reception,
an elderly gentleman waiting
next to Al stuck out his hand.

“I’M KIKUCHI,” he said
with the frowny gruff
typical of their generation.

“KOGA,” Al returned in kind.

Albeit born and bred Americans,
they used the Japanese convention
of introducing themselves
last name first.

The two shook hands.

“I KNEW A KOGA.
WHAT’S YOUR FIRST NAME?”

“AL.”

“OH. I KNEW A YUKIO KOGA.”

“THAT’S ME,” replied Al,
matter-of-factly.
“HOW DO WE KNOW EACH OTHER.”

“DEL REY ELEMENTARY.
I’M BERT KIKUCHI.
USED TO GO BY BUNTARO.”

“I REMEMBER A BUNTARO KIKUCHI.
WE PLAYED MARBLES.”

“THAT’S ME.”

“GOOD TO SEE YOU,” Al said.

“YOU TOO.”

Al and Bert scooped their plates
full of chinameshi,
then went their separate ways.

Al returned to Chicago
the following morning,
Bert to wherever

he had made his home.

 

© Erik Matsunaga

chicago Erik Matsunaga Nikkei Uncovered poet poetry reunion

About this series

Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column is a space for the Nikkei community to share stories through diverse writings on culture, history, and personal experience. The column will feature a wide variety of poetic form and subject matter with themes that include history, roots, identity; history—past into the present; food as ritual, celebration, and legacy; ritual and assumptions of tradition; place, location, and community; and love.

We’ve invited author, performer, and poet traci kato-kiriyama to curate this monthly poetry column, where we will publish one to two poets on the third Thursday of each month—from senior or young writers new to poetry, to published authors from around the country. We hope to uncover a web of voices linked through myriad differences and connected experience.