An Argument: On 1942

— for my mother

Near Rose’s Chop Suey and Jinosuke’s grocery,
the temple where incense hovered and inspired
dense evening chants (prayers for Buddha’s mercy,
colorless and deep), that day he was fired . . .

— No, no, no, she tells me. Why bring it back?
The camps are over. (Also overly dramatic.)
Forget shoyu– stained furoshiki, mochi on a stick:
You’re like a terrier, David, gnawing a bone, an old, old trick . . .

Mostly we were bored. Women cooked and sewed,
men played black jack, dug gardens, a benjo.
Who noticed barbed wire, guards in the towers?
We were children, hunting stones, birds, wild flowers.

Yes, Mother hid tins of tsukemono and eel
beneath the bed. And when the last was peeled,
clamped tight her lips, growing thinner and thinner.
But cancer not the camps made her throat blacker.

. . . And she didn’t die then . . . after the war, in St. Paul,
you weren’t even born. Oh I know, I know, it’s all
part of your job, your way, but why can’t you glean
how far we’ve come, how much I can’t recall —

David, it was so long ago — how useless it seems. . .

— David Mura

March 1942: The owner of the store at 13th and Franklin Streets in Oakland, California, a graduate of University of California, placed a large sign in the window of his store on December 8, the day after Pearl Harbor. The store was closed and the owner sent to a U.S. concentration camp.
Dorothea Lange / Library of Congress

Poet David Mura is sansei, a third-generation Japanese-American. This poem grew from his desire to represent his parents refusal to talk about their interment in prison camps in the United States during World War II.

[Research note: David Mura’s website]