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Category: Mia Ayumi Malhotra

Portrait of Isako in Wartime

Ohio, and I imagine her

walking the train line,

tracks narrowed in the distance.

Through her soles,

the platform’s slats. She feels

their unevenness

in the flats of her feet. Noon-

day heat and the wool

of her jacket’s itchy.

She’s got a bob, it’s 1943

and the war’s on. No one

in the station looks

like her, but everyone’s

looking at her.

No explanation but the one

in government-issued print.

National Student Relocation

Council. Early Release.

The sentry in his watch-

tower, barbed-wire fence

and Stars and Stripes flapping

in the wind. From across

the tracks, a man (here,

imagination does the work

history’s lost) approaches, finger

bared, a blunt accusation.

Aren’t you a Jap? The long

explanation—why she’s out,

whose side she’s on.

The nations we pledge

at odds, leaving us to make

up the difference.

This story’s old, the woman

—dead, papers boxed

in a back closet. I’ve seen them.

Early Release.

The government-issued ID number.

In camp, it’s said, they cut

gardens into Arkansas desert,

fixed rocks into the flat face

of the earth and irrigated

bean rows to feed their families.

Healthy vines appeared

where none should have

grown; tiny buds coaxed

from the earth, tendrils

that spooled runners

through dust.

When the order came

to pack up and return

home, the authorities found

every curtain drawn

shut. Every barrack

floor swept clean.

from Isako IsakoFind more by Mia Ayumi Malhotra at the library

Copyright © 2018 Mia Ayumi Malhotra
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Alice James Books.

A Decade Later, You Return to Your Childhood Home

No one knows the exact whereabouts

of the ovaries; some things we’re not

meant to remember. After your mom

died, you left your childhood home

for good. Ten years later, it’s intact

only in memory. We siphon slowly

through the city, watch the skyline

slide past. Crossing the Washington

Bridge, you’ve come home at last,

where some things we’re not meant

to hold. Tumors are most frequently

found in the ovaries’ epithelium.

Pressing hand to pelvic crest, I imagine

the incision, sutures. Steel instruments

easing each organ apart. Though this

is where we all began, no one wants

to return. Memory takes its retreat,

shuts the lights off, room by room.

Still, something stirs. Life’s germ shifts

imperceptibly—the future, a tiny, single-

celled fact, a body humming with secrets.

from Isako IsakoFind more by Mia Ayumi Malhotra at the library

Copyright © 2018 Mia Ayumi Malhotra
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Alice James Books.

Early Pantoum: SFO International Airport, 1992

I buried my face in my hands

and left it there. When my body rose

to pass through customs gate,

life fell back to normal proportions,

and I left. When nobody rose

to follow us through, I sighed,

because life felt normal. Proportional:

mom, dad, brother. Our luggage

followed us through. I lost sight

of the relatives waving from the gate

at mom, dad, brother, our luggage.

I felt strangely unburdened

by the relatives waving. From the gate,

I turned for a final glance,

felt unburdened at last. The strangeness

of American supermarkets.

Turning, I took a final glance

at that unfamiliar world

of American supermarkets.

I was headed home, though

that too felt unfamiliar.

Soon I’d take on new customs,

headed home, though there too,

I’d have to bury my face.

from Isako IsakoFind more by Mia Ayumi Malhotra at the library

Copyright © 2018 Mia Ayumi Malhotra
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Alice James Books.

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.