Isako Isako follows a single family lineage spanning four generations of female Japanese Americans to explore the chilling historical legacies of cultural traumainternment, mass displacement and rampant racismin the United States, and how it weaves together with current events.
|Publisher:||Alice James Books|
|Product dimensions:||6.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.40(d)|
About the Author
Mia Ayumi Malhotra is a fourth-generation Japanese American and the recipient of fellowships from Kundiman and the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop. She holds a BA from Stanford University and an MFA from the University of Washington, and her poems have appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies, including Indiana Review, The Greensboro Review, Best New Poets, and DISMANTLE: An Anthology of Writing from the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop. She was raised in Laos and Thailand and currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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Self-Portrait as Sparrows and Blood
For the price of a tooth, you can buy two from the boy with no legs. One to keep, the other to let. As in ancient times, the first slit over a bowl of fresh water, the second dipped into the blood of its twin. Water beading on the sheath of its beak. As a child, I observed the talons' delicate architecture. How bent, the weighted tendons snapped shut, clamping the toes in place. Even in sleep, a bird does not lose its perch. A sparrow found on the front steps sputters like a guttering flame when fed from an eyedropper. The tiny body is limp in my hand, cold in the ground where I lay it. So tiny you could crush its skull between two fingers. The crunch of wing bones as the pitted struts collapse. On the sidewalk, a bloodied wing, opened as if in flight. The rest of the bird, incomplete, hovering overhead. The curve of bone like a feathered cuff. None of us escapes unscathed. None of us is free. It's true what they say, that airborne, a bird's bones fill with flight. Set free in an open field, the bird thinking why not me. Blood smeared across keeled breastbone, bright against its throat. Each wingbeat a scarlet flash. The pressed-together parts mirrored in the bottom of the bowl. Halves opening outward like sky.
Scenes from a Childhood
Another History of Isako
I. Isako is lady hold hand to chest one morning say chotto chotto dizzy. Is lady short of breath which draws through straw with chewed out bottom. Something tingly. Is lady scratch in front of mirror chotto itchy around tummy. Is lady who looks on the internet for signs clicks through the stages 1 2 3 finally 4. Whose heart muddies. Is told not likely no we don't believe so. Is lady fit knife in base of belly pull fish open and filet. Is lady point to suji say all this no good see this and this too. Is lady pare meat from bones. Is filled with lesions doctors don't see at first. Is lady lie in bed organs pulled from chest cavity heart lungs and kidney. Is lady pressed to feathers on shiny black background. Is mass the size of a child's fist. Is lady branch to smaller and smaller divisions which end in clusters of alveoli. Is lady emptied. Is lady think dear god dear 26
The lungs at birth are pinkish-white but in time become mottled with black. Take some apricots Isako says. Take more. Tiny pitted fruit fall from her hands. Clumps of rosy flesh. The rush of juice on the tongue. Between mismatched lobes beat the heart's elegant arches. Right here Isako says. I watch as Isako reaches out and presses her shoulder blade. Tucked behind the vena cava lies the tumor's distressed surface. Shocking against the smooth interior of the lung. Did you know that as a child I ate so many apricots I was sick. The body mistakenly lodged in the windpipe. What I remember. The coughing the retching each cartilaginous ring contracting violently. Recanting every bite.
The walls are white and angled outward though at first I attempt to move to the next piece there is no escaping this odd architecture I turn and turn but the center is always there is no turning back as I step closer to the painting what fills the vision large kidney-shaped blotches like red blood cells black swirls which pull down the canvas like a window shade tumors have spread between Isako's lungs they say into the lymphatic system this morning Isako woke saying something feels funny in my head I do not believe this possible try to step away from the painting its reds its black its dramatic fingers reaching from organs that bleed in every direction this is not how the space is designed I am meant to face it head on there is no turning back.
Isako like Ash Your Sister Drifts Back to You
During the war Isako you tell me your sister her daughters half-Japanese turned the neighbors cold this memory Isako a thicket that cannot be breached how it rises to block the sky nights Isako you tell me you darkened the windows readied a pot of uncooked rice for the pit in your front yard deep as a grave Isako out of the wanderings of history you have emerged Isako on this white couch all the body fallen from your bones to hear you speak Isako of war rations potatoes one week yellow onions the next mother riddled with stomach pains is like hearing you speak of another life Isako stumbling through streets bolts of silk clutched to your chest begging for handfuls of rice Isako your uncle whispers something about the city bombed like ash your sister and her two girls drift back to you on the wind your brother soon follows overhead a haze of memory so many lifetimes Isako together we stand mist breaking into little tendrils and drifting away Isako the world so bright and buzzing with activity it is difficult Isako to remember you at the center an obliterated city explosions of light buildings immediately flattened above the thicket Isako smoke rises from another life Isako the wail of air raid sirens the life you lead Isako not so distant as you may think
Portrait of Isako in Wartime
The Street Where a Certain Democratic Leader Lives
Everywhere the sound of brass tongues breaking against bells and the delicate scent of frangipani. Women with cheeks like acrid moons smeared with yellow paste. Every house shadowed by the heavy gold of the pagoda whose spires spindle into blue. The oily glare of the stupa. A series of unmarked buildings built without windows to make a point of the walls. Inside are women who brush each other's hair to a fine gloss. Around the front gather a group of foreigners trying to make a border. Facing the one-way glass they see only their reflection mirrored both ways. Who is behind the door. Possibly they are chained to a bed or being beaten. Possibly they are bent over a washbasin wringing out their hair. In their nostrils lingers the smell of devil's dung also called hing and ting. Fear is a hallway with no doors. An impossible black that absorbs all light. I look into its lustrous glaze and watch my likeness warp as though pushed through heavy water. In protest I cross the country. At the border I create an edge and apply a distant pressure. Upon arriving the women's arms are pinned above their heads like insect specimens on display. Their arches lift through the pretense of cut glass spread across the floor. If the back is a bridge there must be a way to cross it. Arranged in unnatural configurations the body evokes what some call desire and travel long distances to satisfy. Hello you like girls is both question and statement. Am I a part of this. If this is my body then are these its parts. A bottle breaks on a distant counter making a jagged edge.
The street where women are marked and made to stand in a line which makes a border. Border: a n edge, a fixed line that cannot be crossed though the body is flexible and made to perform unnatural acts. Standing there every body tells itself: I is invisible. I does not exist. Every body a ragged edge that tells itself there is no tear then passes directly through. Labia. Lips. White fabric fluoresces in blacklight. Visible but not. Am I a part of this. Ping-pong ball. Crotch. In the street a woman calls out but there is a blank where her mouth should be.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Isako Isako"
Copyright © 2018 Mia Ayumi Malhotra.
Excerpted by permission of Alice James Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
To My Many Mothers, Issei and Nisei 1
A History of Isako 6
Part I Legion My Lesion
Self-Portrait as Sparrows and Blood 13
Scenes from a Childhood 14
As If 18
City of Sandalwood 19
Early Pantoum: SFO International Airport, 1992 21
A Decade Later, You Return to Your Childhood Home 23
Another History of Isako 26
Isako like Ash Your Sister Drifts Back to You 29
Portrait of Isako in Wartime 30
Sunday in Skagit Valley 33
The Street Where a Certain Democratic Leader Lives 35
After Hiroshima 41
Legion My Lesion 46
Portrait in. Sickness and Health 47
Part II A History of Lost Things
Late Pantoum: Isako, Illness 55
Garden Song 56
Sakai Bros. Nursery 57
Elegy for the Unborn 58
Three Scenes from the Body 60
Isako Cries after the Wedding 64
The Sister Watches the Recessional 65
At the Cliff House 66
Isako Shows Her Daughter How to Ply the Line 67
Pity the Child 69
The Kind of Morning 70
Isako's Rules to Remember 73
Lost Things I 74
Isako Recalls Her Father's Death 75
Lost Things II 76
Isako, Last Spring 77
Part III In the Quiet after
The Losing Begins 81
Salmon Song: Migration 82
Bathing Isako 84
In the Quiet after 87
One Day You'll Look in the Mirror and See Lions 92
A Last History of Isako 94
[Without Isako] 95
Balloon Bombs 96