April 3, 2013
Festival of Dolls

On the cusp of puberty
August 1945,
my world changed in a gasp.

 

From Fukuoka, somewhere
between Hiroshima and
Nagasaki, I saw

 

two chariot clouds that would

lift me from the cellar where

precious potatoes were

 

stored, as if my atoms were

shaken, rearranged, to find

myself riding the cap

 

of a mushroom shroud, drifting

over Fujiyama, then

east across the ocean.

 

I believed any place else

was better than where I lived:

coaxing warmth from ashes,

 
scouring streets for ragged sheets
of seaweed to wrap around
black-market rice and fish.

 
Once, I stole a sack of red

plums, and Mother smacked my face

before she sliced the fruit

 

 

and offered it to Father.

But in Nagasaki and

Hiroshima, a hand

 

imprinted on a cheek means

nothing to shadows set in

concrete. Why can’t life be

 

like Hinamatsuri, when
I would dress up all my dolls
for their hand-picked husbands?

 
I would dream of real daughters

to swathe in fine kimonos.

I surrendered to smiling

 

soldiers, who nicknamed me “Doll,”

and promised me chocolates

today and tomorrow.

 

So much for a hungry girl

with eyes for America,

land of silk and money.

 

—JL Kato  (Marion County)

This poem originally appeared in Paterson Literary Review.

 JL Kato is a native of Japan who grew up in Indiana. His assimilation into American culture is so complete, he says, he would starve if he had to rely on chopsticks. His book, Shadows Set in Concrete (Restoration Press), was selected a 2011 Best Book of Indiana by the Indiana Center for the Book.

Indiana Humanities is posting a poem a day from Indiana poets in celebration of National Poetry Month.

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