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