Skip to content →

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.

Published in Mia Ayumi Malhotra Poems

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.