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  • Through the Willows, and: Easter Cherries, and: Gretel, through the wood, and: Heartland, and: Border
  • Miho Nonaka (bio)

Through the Willows

Bless the cherry that must still bloom in Aprilits trunk scarred with initials, hasty students' hands

Bless the tadpoles that fatten in rice paddiesKeep their bodies plump like gray marbles

Restore to me and my best friendher lipsticks, my comic booksconfiscated at the school gate

Bless our daikon thighs, pale and plumpour meaty calves in thick high socks

How our empty bento boxes sangon the way home at dusk—everyone's secret stop, the local 7-Eleven:pork buns, curry buns, pizza buns, sweet-bean buns

Forgive our confusion on spiritual matters:horoscopes, Ouija boards, funerals for insects

Have mercy on the whereabouts of our ancestorsWe've committed to memory the Lord's Prayerin five and seven syllables

Do not hold me accountable for those Chinese charactersI made up for pop quizzes [End Page 73]

Redeem our first sex education, a shadowgraph of the cutoutwe couldn't tell where her bodystarted and his bodyended

The number of hours we spent guessing each other'scrush (though we don't say "crush" in Japanese)

Bless our crush and his ugly uniform,one of its golden buttons closest to                                 his heart

Bless the city we kept dreaming of leavingyet neither of us can return now

Bless the willows that lined the road, swaying(and who was I then?)when he and I passed each other in rain [End Page 74]

Easter Cherries

Far from home, weeping cherries started bloomingfor the first time outside the church:this is their fifth Easter in Chicago.

Not breathtaking like those clouds after cloudsof blush petals along Sumida River,but darker, wispy flowers drooping downward.

Still, our pastor insists on a cherry viewing.The youth spread a mat under the trees, andinstead of traditional mochi balls in three shades,

we snack on stale, craggy cookies—a donationfrom Costco, one of their tax reduction tools.The pastor wants a picture with his wife

and two daughters, both single and perfectlybilingual. They take turns translating jokesand sermons into English for the non-Japanese

like my husband. Their mother calls them her"kingdom soldiers," who partake of everydiscomfort required of their parents' mission,

their untranslatable lives. The weeping branchesare nothing but an obstacle for our children;they feel no longing when flowers scatter,

consumed in gathering cheap plastic eggsstrewn over the grass. Triumphant, my son holdshis Peeps like tiny pyramids in glittering sugar.

He understands but does not speak mymother tongue. Chick by chick, he tears offand swallows its neon marshmallow body [End Page 75]

while I wonder why I ever allowed myselfto believe that one day, I would feel lessalone. The pastor in his leather jacket might well

pass for a middle-aged Yakuza, if not for the factthat one afternoon, he received God's callingin bone-dry California, waiting for an oil change

on his beat-up Toyota. Our elder, Mr. Aoki,who lost his engineering job in the city justbefore retirement, lectures on how to make

salted-cherry cakes using a bread machine.Mrs. Aoki pours green tea in everyone'sStyrofoam cup, apologizing for its bitterness,

urging us to take more American cookies.No sake accompanies our Easter cherry-viewing, but the pastor's face has turned pink,

and in silence, we take in how much hishairline has receded over the last yearor two. We have no lyres to hang up on the trees

but our hearts. What opens our hearts to theseblossoms is their momentary pausemarked by the clarity of their leave-taking.

Sitting upright on the mat, his eyes tracingthe petals, another elder, Mr. Suzuki, whispers,"Will there be such flowers in heaven?" [End Page 76]

Gretel, through the wood

—after Marie Howe

It was like getting lost in the wood whose heart you enterone kind of person and emerge quite another,

isn't that what a story is: a beginning, an end, and whateverin between...


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