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To My Many Mothers, Issei and Nisei

Praise be to beef liver stew, to gravy biscuits

and home-baked bread, to women

in work pants and suspenders who worked like dogs

in the packing shed, up to elbows

in rose clippings. You fed us well, O goddesses

of goulash and green beans, of Sunday dinners

wrangled from the coop. For penny money

and seamstressing, praise. For parsnips

and sweet potatoes, praise. Even for the years lost

to sharecropping and strawberries, hallelujah.

You worked until the final hour then rose

three days later, baby squalling on your hip,

back to breaking canes, clipping hooks,

hustling the men through lunch hour.

No breaks, boys. Hallelujah to Pond’s Cold Cream,

to curling rags and church bento socials.

Praise to the nursery truck revving in the morning,

the clank of steel pipes and boiler-

house rumble. All glory to the Berkeley streetcar

and Key Route electric train, the smokestacks

of Richmond and foggy peaks of San Francisco.

And because they’re what taught us to praise,

glory to the roses run wild, the packing shed

left to cobweb. Praise to the crowded horse stalls

and half-built barracks of Rohwer, Arkansas,

dusty sheets and muffled nights of Block 9-9-C,

100. Sakai, Chu. 102. Sakai, Ruby. 103. Sakai, Kazue.

O praise to the camp midwives, the Nisei girls

shooting hoops and swatting birdies when their mothers

weren’t looking. And to the college-bound coed

who crossed the country, camp release papers

in hand, hallelujah. Her truth marches on.

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.