Select a primary language to get the most out of our Journal pages:
English 日本語 Español Português

We have made a lot of improvements to our Journal section pages. Please send your feedback to!



The Asian American Literary Review

Poems: "Conversation with My Mother" & "Translation"

Conversation with My Mother

How much fabric was left?
         Not much. Boro-boro, Obaasan said. Shreds.

And your mother recognized her by the fabric

If the fabric was in shreds, she was almost naked?
         No, she wore white cotton undergarments.

And they still covered her body?
         They covered her body.

They weren’t torn like her blouse and pants?
         They covered her body.

What did the pattern of the fabric look like?
         I don’t remember, but it couldn’t have been beautiful.
         The emperor forbade decorative dress during the war.

So the pattern wasn’t pretty, not mountain peaks, or sparrows on branches?
         She might have used the fabric of a finer dress to make work clothes,
         like the jacket Higuchi-san made for you.

Was it plain? Was it the fabric’s texture, not pattern, that showed on her skin?
         No, the fabric was patterned, and the pattern burned into her skin.

Maybe flowers?
         Maybe flowers.

Maybe leaves?
         Maybe leaves. 



Wedding photo of my great-grandmother Kunie, great grandfather Naoyuki who fought in WWII and died in New Guinea in the Pacfic War. (Photo courtesy of author)

Some things we know: distances between cities, between Otake and Koi,
Koi and Hiroshima, names of stations, the kanji for atom reads child.

A body lying in the middle of the road, the road,
a scarf, names of lilies, golden-rayed, stargazer, demon girl, baby deer.

We know drawings, bicycles, animals on fire, a woman calling
across a rubble field, Husband forgive me for leaving,

puppets, buttons, blind fish walking in the hills,
shoes—always shoes—umbrella menders, a boy holds a bucket of sand.

Abi kyo kan no chimata Obaasan always said about that day.
There are some things I don’t know, so my mother tells me,

No chimata means all around myself. Kyo means cry. Kan means cry.
Abi means avici, the eighth and lowest Buddhist hell of hells.”

Where there’s no light of the lighthouse that shines on the cape,
no light of a pyre, silk, mother’s eye, or freshly rinsed gauze,

but the gleam of an iron fortress, an iron rack, a place of iron birds and foxes,
where the fire dog races east to west. No time and no space,

it’s un-spaced and ceaseless: flaming serpents wrapped around a neck,
sword mountains and sword trees, thorn and razor streams,
only molten iron to drink.


* Poems first published in The Asian American Literary Review, Issue 1. AALR is a not-for-profit literary arts journal, a showcase of the best of today’s Asian American literature. To learn more about the journal or purchase a subscription, visit them online at, or find them on Facebook.

© 2010 April Naoko Heck

aalr atomic bomb literature poem poetry

About this series

The Asian American Literary Review is a space for writers who consider the designation “Asian American” a fruitful starting point for artistic vision and community. In showcasing the work of established and emerging writers, the journal aims to incubate dialogues and, just as importantly, open those dialogues to regional, national, and international audiences of all constituencies. It selects work that is, as Marianne Moore once put it, “an expression of our needs…[and] feeling, modified by the writer’s moral and technical insights.”

Published biannually, AALR features fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, comic art, interviews, and book reviews. Discover Nikkei will feature selected stories from their issues.

Visit their website for more information and to subscribe to the publication: