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Kubota to Miguel Hernández in Heaven, Leupp, Arizona, 1942

ISSUE:  Summer 2006

The sun travels slowly from over the top of this adobe stockade
And, when I finally wake and pull my face to the bars
At my window, I see a gray light filling in the shadows
Between the mess and guard quarters
And among river stones on the sides of the central well.
Horses snort and whinny far off from the corral I cannot see,
And a line of burros shuffles by, led by a single Navajo
Dressed in khaki-colored clothes from the trading post.
I’ve been here two months now, can name the hills
Surrounding this plateau of piñon pines—words I learned
From the guards and other prisoners, Japanese like me
Swept up in the days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The guards won’t say what our crime is, rarely address us,
But I overhear them sometimes, uttering the names of mountains,
Nearby towns, complaining about food and us “Japs.”
They won’t say if we’ll be let go. The interrogators come
Every few days and ask about our hobbies back home—
Studying poetry, working the short wave radio at night,
And me, how I go night fishing for kumu on Kahuku Point.
What landed me here was I used to go torching,
Wrapping the kerosene-soaked rags on bamboo poles,
Sticking them into the sand inside the lagoon,
And then go light them with a flick from my Zippo.
The fish come in from outside the reef,
Schooling to the light, and me I catch enough
To feed my neighbors—Portagee, Hawaiian, Chinee, and all—
Eating good for days after, like New Year’s in early December.
For this they say I’m signaling submarines offshore,
Telling the Japanese navy the South-Southwest route to Pearl.
That’s a lie. They ask when—I tell them. They ask where—I tell them.
How many fish?—I tell them same every time. No change my answer.
But how can you transform sorrow into poems, Miguel?
To think of your wife and infant son with only onions to eat,
While you sing your lullabies from your cell in Alicante?
Is it cold for you, Miguel? With only the dark to wrap yourself in?
It is warm, even hot here on Navajo land in northern Arizona,
Where your poems descend to me in the moon’s sweet, silver light
As it rises over the Mogollon Plateau these summer evenings.
They say that your sentence was death for writing poetry,
That you celebrated the Republic and the commoners.
I celebrated only my family and the richness of the sea.
My sentence, therefore, is only eternity to wait, not knowing,
Imagining everything, imagining nothing—
My wife taking in boarders, doing their laundry and sewing,
My children growing more trivial by the day
Without word where I have been taken,
Whether I will be returned or simply have vanished
Into the unwritten history of our country.
Your suffering tells me to be patient, Miguel,
To think of your song of sweet onions lulling your baby,
Even in his hunger, to a peaceful sleep,
While the wars of our time, and their ignorant ministrations,
Go on shedding their black, tyrannical light into the future.


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