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Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column

Presence

This month, I sought out poems from Los Angeles-based Nancy Uyemura and Amy Honjiyo. I'd been asking Nancy for quite some time now to send me some writing ever since I learned she writes from time to time in the background of her beautiful art making career. Then, I saw both of them onstage for one of the +LAB Artist-in-Residence culminations at the Aratani Theatre in Little Tokyo (supporting my fellow cohorts Marina Fukushima and Isak Immanuel) and was caught in a sort of awe in seeing these two wonderful beings up there, so present in a performance moment. Their pieces here are connected by questions and moments of being - asking us, perhaps, to wake up and be present for what is right here and right now. Enjoy.

—traci kato-kiriyama

* * * * *

Nancy Uyemura was born and raised in Los Angeles, a Sansei, with degrees from both UCLA and USC, as well as studying in Japan and at Otis Art Institute with Kanemitsu and later at the American Feng Shui Institute. Nancy has taught different levels and was Visual Communications Director for Mrs. Gooch’s Markets (later becoming Whole Foods), as well as showing her art work locally and in Japan and Korea, and directed Gallery IV in the Arts District. She has done several public art projects, including the LTSC entry to Casa Heiwa and paintings in the Little Tokyo Library. Uyemura has always written in many genres but is drawn to poetry. Her spiritual voice is seen and heard in both her visual work and written word.

 

BE-ing

The light changed just now
The view from the window went from dim to vivid bright
The shadow around the inside of the frame is dark
Just now beginning to merge into seeing and blending with the light
The inside is still in the shade of the brightness
Still in the shadows but the brightness is just too strong
The time will come
When the light will balance out with the hidden Or
will it?
Will the shadow always be there
Do we need the darkness to know the light
The brightness just went away
Maybe a cloud
Too early for a sunset
Why am I so sad
What does the loss of light mean
What does any of this mean
Do we have to push ourselves to be better
Greater than we were yesterday
Does that mean that we aren’t good enough now
Why do we have to be good enough
There is an element of judgement there
And can’t we just BE
Breathe into the BE-ing-ness of who we are

* This poem is copyrighted by Nancy Uyemura (2013).

 

* * * * *

Amy Honjiyo was born in East LA, California, transplanted in the suburbs and foothills, and re-rooted in Monterey Park. Her day jobs consisted of “pushing pencils then tapping keyboards.” She homeschooled a kodomo, and learned the best lessons start from the heart. She is now retired and recycled as a bokashi composting garbage collector in Little Tokyo.

 

Dead Circle of Life

In the silent calm of dream to waking,
       A gentle circle embraces vast hidden vulnerabilities.

                     I hear my mother’s singing,
                                       My auntie’s contagious laugh.

I see the curly hair of a friend who envied
                          my stick straight hair,
                                           A sister who scowled often.

I smell my father’s cigar, smoked only in the back yard.

I dwell on the friendship that needed no words
               And a new friend who was here last month but
                                                                     not now.

The circle that cushioned and cloaked,
                   Begins to strain and constrain
                                   ladened with want and emotion.

Then, my dog looking so alive,
              irreverently sits on top of it all,
                       Wagging tail, waiting for breakfast.

Reminding me, it’s time to wake up and eat!

* This poem is copyrighted by Amy Honjiyo (2019).

 

© 2013 Nancy Uyemura; 2019 Amy Honjiyo

+LAB Artists-in-Residence artist being light Nikkei Uncovered poet poetry

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.