Minidoka, Idaho

In Minidoka
I ordered a pair of white
majorette boots
with tassels from
Montgomery Ward
and swaggered in
ankle deep dust.

I heard
bullsnakes were sprinkled
along the edges
to rid of us dread
rattlers.
A few of their orphans
hatched and escaped behind
barbed wires
befriended by boys
with mayonnaise jars.

Let them go I said to Joe
they will poison us.
But they are lost, and see? Blind
Joe said.
We rescued them
from the bullies.

— Mitsuye Yamada

Mitsuye Yamada was born in Japan and moved with her family to Seattle when she was three years old. Her father was the founder and president of the Senryu (Japanese 17-syllable poetry) Society in Seattle. Mr. Yamada was arrested, accused of being an enemy of the state, on December 7, 1941. In 1942, Mitsuye was imprisoned with her family in the Minidoka internment camp in Idaho.

[Research notes: Camp Notes and Other Writings (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press: 1976), p. 18]

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768px-japanese_american_historical_plaza_portland_or_2012_-_rock

Japanese American Historical Plaza, Portland, Oregon, February 4, 2012. Image credit: Another Believer / CC BY-SA 3.0

— Shizue Iwatsuki / Lawson Fusao Inada

Shizue Iwatsuki was interned with her husband and daughter first at the Pinedale Assembly Center (Fresno), then Tule Lake Prison Camp (California), and finally Minidoka Prison Camp (Idaho). Lawson Inada was four years old when his family was also forced into the Pinedale Assembly Center in 1942. This collaborative “mini-poem” comes from the Standing Stones of the Japanese America Historical Plaza in Portland, Oregon.

[Research note: Lawson Inada talks about his work with Shizue Iwatsuki in Legends from Camp: Poems (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 1992), in a chapter called Poems in Stone (see page 51). For more on the lives of Iwatsuki and Inada see the Densho Encyclopedia.]

(untitled)

Mighty Willamette!
Beautiful friend,
I am learning,
I am practicing
To say your name.

Sure, I go to school
Same as you,
I’m an American.

Who? What?
When? Where?
Why?

Rounded up
In the sweltering yard.
Unable to endure any longer
Standing in line
Some collapse.

— Shizue Iwatsuki

Shizue Iwatsuki immigrated to the U.S. in 1916 with her husband. They settled in Hood River, Oregon, where she raised strawberries and apples to help feed their three children. In 1926, the Iwatsukis became founding members of Hood River’s Japanese Methodist Church. During WWII, Shizue and her husband were incarcerated at Pinedale Assembly Center. From there, they were sent to Tule Lake Prison Camp in California, then Minidoka Prison Camp in Idaho. These “mini-poems” come from the Standing Stones of the Japanese America Historical Plaza in Portland, Oregon.

Evacuation

As we boarded the bus
bags on both sides
(I had never packed
two bags before
on a vacation
lasting forever)
the Seattle Times
photographer said
Smile!
so obediently I smiled
and the caption the next day
read:
Note smiling faces
a lesson to Tokyo.

— Mitsuye Yamada

Mitsuye Yamada was born in Japan and moved with her family to Seattle when she was three years old. Her father was the founder and president of the Senryu (Japanese 17-syllable poetry) Society in Seattle. Mr. Yamada was arrested, accused of being an enemy of the state, on December 7, 1941. Mitsuye was imprisoned with the rest of her family in the Minidoka internment camp in Idaho in 1942.

Healing Gila

for The People

The people don’t mention it much.
It goes without saying,
it stays without saying —

that concentration camp
on their reservation.

And they avoid that massive site
as they avoid contamination —

that massive void
punctuated by crusted nails,
punctured pipes, crumbled
failings of foundations . . .

What else is there to say?

This was a lush land once,
graced by a gifted people
gifted with the wisdom
of rivers, seasons, irrigation.

The waters went flowing
through a network of canals
in the delicate workings
of balances and health . . .

What else is there to say?

Then came the nation.
Then came the death.

Then came the desert.
Then came the camp.

But the desert is not deserted.
It goes without saying,
it stays without saying —

wind, spirits, tumbleweeds, pain.

— Lawson Fusao Inada

Lawson Fusao Inada was born in 1938 in Fresno, California. A third-generation American, he was four years old when his family was incarcerated by the U.S government. Along with more than 5,000 other Japanese-Americans from the Fresno area, the Inadas were kept at the county fairgrounds under armed guard before they were forcibly relocated to concentration camps around the U.S., including one on the Gila River Indian Reservation.

Barracks Home

This is our barracks, squatting on the ground,
Tar papered shacks, partitioned into rooms
By sheetrock walls, transmitting every sound
Of neighbor’s gossip or the sweep of brooms
The open door welcomes the refugees,
And now at least there is no need to roam
Afar: here space enlarges memories
Beyond the bounds of camp and this new home.
The floor is carpeted with dust, wind-borne
Dry alkalai, patterned with insect feet,
What peace can such a place as this impart?
We can but sense, bewildered and forlorn,
That time, disrupted by the war from neat
Routines, must now adjust within the heart.

— Tojo Suyemoto Kawakami

Tojo (Toyo) Suyemoto Kawakami was imprisoned with her husband and son in the Central Utah Relocation Center (Tapaz Japanese Internment Camp) for three years.