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Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column

Specks and Shadows

Portland-based writer and musician Kou Sugita gives us several pieces in this month's column that nudge us into a quiet space of listening—to past echoes that still reverberate; to colors that heed our remembrance; to “the shadow of a shadow of a sound.” Kou’s pieces here are shown with a light of subtle beauty and a depth of exploration that beg for more than one reading.  Enjoy...

—traci kato-kiriyama

* * * * *

Kou Sugita was born in Japan and relocated to Oregon as a baby. He currently lives in Portland with his partner and two cats. His poetry has appeared in The Volta, Oversound, TYPO, and elsewhere. These poems were previously published by Oversound. A semi-retired poet, his outlet is music and selling vintage clothing these days. 


From Transfer

How does the electricity lick
Off the ends of our circular arms

Slowly and lapping our heels
Lilac wise
Or hackles of rage

Language  /  never

Into its cadaverous memory

What was sensual only
In the light  /  inching closer
Between my synapses


Out of echoes—
                    Want to say oh

Look my family mirrored
In the commercial blimp passing overhead

A speck in a speck in the speck 
                                     / And yes                   

Hear the loneliness
In their will / collective / collected / after imaged / webbed /

            / Eyes then hand then sun
Same green silhouette / same red vein
(Realize a suspicion in that line)
Out on a valley fluff grass / free to think anything
Only a fumbled focus to knowing / All my friends and I
Will labor no way around / decompose while after making
Circle towards dying


No holidays / except in friends
So how to believe in a
Most prodigious night
Of all nights on earth?

There are ghosts in me
Who can still bruise
Some already in
Passing / Pushing through

A silver arch
Of waves
Like a knife’s flathead pressed
Against a thought

Don’t slip / be ready to be
Ignited / On how many nights
Is there celebration of their breath

Okay shed

The translucent
Cicada wing
Batting the dead off
The shadow of a shadow of a sound

I’m trying a look / over the tranquil hills 
(Have more than a gaze overseas)


It’s yellow rotating as spotlight against an ocean
Yellow the color of nostalgia / It seems
I can only remember one funeral   (or memorial / ?)
In Japan / men and women silent / children

On the ground like purple balloons
(Assume the gesture of holding in all liquid thought) / I let mine drag on
Sun bleached concrete / sputter up into the smoke rising
From the altar’s shiny black stone

Clean into the sky I become part of the forgetting
A younger self somewhere in Oregon
Learned the first words    (can)     become secondary
From when / Learned by meeting / Stem(ing)
From the exports grandparents packaged  

Then dang in unison / with all my friends / Learned new
This time in an age of progressions / Progressions of place
Sitting around the oh yeahs / my head
Reeling the realness / It’s like someone else’s fist

Clenching a red sheened balloon
Becomes / as if an ours / on a Pacific shore
Its firey dawn / I stick out my tongue to the source
Fireworks /  And settlers provoking some seals 

*These poems were originally published in Oversound, Issue 6 (2020).


© 2020 Kou Sugita

Kou Sugita 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.

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