Isako Isako

Isako Isako

by Mia Ayumi Malhotra


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781938584947
Publisher: Alice James Books
Publication date: 09/04/2018
Pages: 100
Sales rank: 568,788
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.

Read an Excerpt


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.


Excerpted from "Isako Isako"
by .
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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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

Adenocarcinoma 25

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

Cebu 38

After Hiroshima 41

Polytrauma 44

Legion My Lesion 46

Portrait in. Sickness and Health 47

Recovery 48

Crossing 51

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

Departure 85

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

Notes 101

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