An Essay on Tolerance
White light pinned my pupils
as I told the camera crowd:
“One day I wish to be
the blue sky that spreads
between Japan and America.”
My parents said for an eloquent lie
I was given 250 dollars and a microphone.
In their soft way, of course,
on the car-ride home
from the awards’ ceremony.
My words were too syrupy
and I wasn’t Martin Luther King, Jr.
But was it a lie?
Japanese people and American people
don’t hate each other,
Okāsan was matter of fact.
We hurried home to the fields
to cover the greens from frost
with cloud cloth. And that was that.
Second grade, on the patched school bus, my best friend:
“your mom’s like this:” eyes stretched up and slanted into slits
“your dad’s like this:” untouched eyes, forefingers hovering
“and you’re like this:” an in-between distortion
My own laugh
was a boomerang.
Seventh grade, history, World War II.
The boys tease,
“Your evil people attacked us—remember Pearl Harbor?”
As I, screeching red, spat back:
“Remember the atomic bombs?”
the boy I danced shoo-fly-don’t-bother-me
by the Maypole in grade school
turned to me in class to say,
“If you hate America so much,
why don’t you go back to Japan?”
I fought, crackling
like butter on a hotplate,
tongue leaping like olive oil.
But it’s true that fifty years
after the Japs were drawn like rats
and the Americans long-nosed racists,
the Japanese loved America like Disneyworld.
Forbidden from learning English
in her youth, Obāchan let Otōsan
take away her only daughter
to the land of the stars and stripes.
The collective minds of both nations
agreed to amnesia, an embrace
of stock shares and nuclear plants.
How did we forget what is still there?
On a Tokyo train a man stares transfixed,
as if I were a rare animal at the zoo.
My host mother sighs
as we pass the imperial grounds,
“But we lost, and it’s a winner’s world.”
History is our selective memory
that blacks out the bloodshed
so we may remember all that we buy
(the minivan, the flower-patterned dish, the onions frying for dinner)
as things, just things—
not things that were made with bony fingers
twitching with hunger,
or picked with blistering palms
withering in desert heat.
We forget to feel better,
but feel nothing at all.
Once, over the wide ocean Obāchan
sent me a red, Hello Kitty case
with five perfect, matching pencils.
I fell in love with the big eyes,
that adorable, oversized bow,
and I longed to be that cute.
Sometimes still, I wish for bigger eyes.
But then I remember
that to be Hello Kitty
is to have no mouth.
~from Memory of a Girl
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