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Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column

In this moment

While we typically link a theme together from the poems we receive from two or more writers, this month we're featuring two voices whose pieces are situated very personally within their own moments, within their own season. Seattle-based Sansei Carolee Okamoto just began writing in 2017 as a way to process her family history and shares with us a poem linked to the annual Day Of Remembrance commemorating the signing of Executive Order 9066. And at the top here, along with their beautiful artwork, we feature some stream-of-consciousness prose by Rino Kodama. I offered Rino a few prompts (“what is the color of love, of grief, for you, this season?” “where on your body does it sit?” and so forth) and they took off with it, allowing us to land in their honest and exploratory space of colors, mantras and reflections. Enjoy...

— traci kato-kiriyama

* * * * *

Rino Kodama (they/them/theirs) recently graduated from University of California, Los Angeles, majoring in art and minoring in Asian American studies. They are a Shin-Issei artist who co-creates with earth materials, alchemizing internal transformations through clay cocoons and natural dyes. They embrace creative collaboration and are grateful for healing spaces that help nurture radical connections such as Vigilant Love and Seraphim Dream. Currently they are based in their hometown Santa Clara, California, also known as Ohlone land. 

 

What fuels me at 22
grief -- friendship love -- creative recovery 

This is the season of The Hermit.
At least that is what my tarot cards tell me.
I believe them, and retreat into my drawings, a wash of cyanotype blue.
Cyanotypes are the origins of photography, chemicals that stain a paper,
and where the paper does not see light, emerges an image.
There is transformation, even where the light does not touch.
I remind myself of this when I grieve. 

Grief sits on my body like a wave--still, and then crashing, tumbling. 
At some point I should accept this rhythm of life. 
When I am mourning, I am reminded of grief-synchronicity.
In times of deep loss, like when obaachan died, life shows me another person who is grieving their grandmother too.
And we apologize and send our condolences, knowing the weight of mourning a death oceans away. 

When obaachan died, I cried and cried because I know she must be so happy to be with grandpa again and I cried and cried because sinking in a bathtub that my friends made for me reminded me of going to the hot springs together.
How lucky I am to experience the romance of  friendship love, those who willingly sit with me in the dark. 

Maybe “love”  is an overused word, but messy, honest, vulnerable friendship is what showed me true love. 
The color of friendship is an orange embrace. 
Warm shades reserved for soul kin. 

They are the ones that light candles for me when I am hurting, and the ones that ignite fire
with it when hurtful truths spill out. I am almost grateful for arguments between friends.
How care-full that we love each other enough to show your bare heart. 

I don’t fight like this with my parents because that requires full blown honesty and actually speaking about what is on our mind/heart and we mostly practice silence).

But I practice this orange love with friends--our relationship feels magical.
We’re on the same wavelength. No amount of fluffy words can describe romance that expects nothing in return but expects you to be your fullest self.
You are changed when someone loves you enough to forgive you. 

What is the color of love for you this season?
This is a helpful question for my creative recovery.

Sometimes I feel stuck in a creative block with all my little addictions and self doubts and self loathing sinking me down.
I am a hermit resorting to quiet repetition, following a routine that could lead me to new synchronicities.
I wake up, write three pages of streams of consciousness, sit on the affirmations that I need to get through the day. 

As I create and listen, I will be led.
As I create and listen, I will be led.
As I create and listen, I will be led.
Write that ten times and whatever negative thought comes up to counter the hope, write that down. Sometimes I wonder what all of this will amount to. Where will I be led? 
Reflect on that negative thought and write down what counters that.
Well it’s not necessarily a negative thought. I am just wondering if this repetition is worth it.
As I create and listen, I will be led.
As I create and listen, I will be led.
As I create and listen, I will be led.
As I create and listen, I will be led.
As I create and listen, I will be led.
As I create and listen, I will be led.
As I create and listen, I will be led.

Blue and orange. The color of love.
I look for these colors on my walks.  I make my way through my childhood neighborhood, eventually reaching my elementary school.
My therapist tells me I am lucky to be able to return to a place where I grew up. Not everyone gets to experience that.
I make laps around this safe haven, occasionally sitting to drink water or read my current book.
At first it felt ridiculous when I realized this movement was freeing.
I breathe, retreating to my circles around the block, leaving voice messages for those I miss, attempting to bridge the gap between love letters in my heart, and the fiery pink sky I see while the sun sets. 

* This poem is copyrighted by Rino Kodama (2021)

 

* * * * *

Carolee Okamoto is a Sansei who began writing and creating art in 2017, after retiring from teaching health informatics and information management at the University of Washington in 2015. Carolee’s late emergence into writing and art was spurred by a need to tell her parents’ story. Patty and Keith Okamoto were incarcerated by the War Relocation Authority at Jerome, AR, and Poston, AZ, respectively.

Carolee grew up in south Texas, in the only Nikkei family in a town of 10,000. She graduated from the University of Texas and holds an MBA from Houston Baptist University. She later obtained a Residential Design diploma and a Fashion Marketing degree from the Seattle Art Institute. Today, Carolee owns a health informatics consulting company and an interior design company.  Carolee writes with the Omoide [memories] writer's group, which is a program of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington.

 

Slivers & Twigs

There you are, Mom,
Back in Jerome.
The swamps of “Redneck” Arkansas
The place forcibly called “home”.

Turning 18 on the day of arrival
I can see on this day
Your existence, your sheer survival
Your young life so unfairly delayed.

And that tar paper siding…
Trapping in all that heat
With all seven of you crammed inside
Wasn’t it stifling? And hard to beat?

And cousin Kawano in uniform there?
Were you forcibly drafted to fight the front lines?
Or did you bravely volunteer?
And did you live? Or did you die? 

And Auntie Mary, your hand in support
Head held high, smiling away.
Ever the loyal sister
Never going far or astray.

And there…Grandma Kameyo
With that smirk on your face.
You held on and together…
A true picture of grace. 

And, Mom, looking ever so gay…
Your words and my heart collide
“Laughing is better than crying”, you’d say.
But, I felt your tears held deeply inside.

So many thoughts racing asunder,
Rushing through my head
So many questions left to wonder
So many explanations left unsaid.

You lived a good life
You kept your smile big
You made the most
Out of slivers and twigs.

*This poem is copyrighted by Carolee Okamoto (2021)

Note: February 19 is marked as the Day of Remembrance. The author is a “Sansei,” third generation Nikkei. Her mother was incarcerated at the Jerome Relocation Center in Arkansas. “Cousin Kawano,” (mentioned in the 4th stanza and pictured in uniform) trained at Camp Shelby with the 100/442 RCT.

 

© 2021 Rino Kodama, Carolee Okamoto

Carolee Okamoto DOR Nikkei Uncovered poetry Rino Kodama traci kato-kiriyama

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.