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I. KIMIKO OZAWA (from Heart Mountain, 1943)

Oka-san keeps stuffing rags under
the barracks door, around cracks
in the window, to keep out smells
of snow, sage and cattle,
families pressed around us.
My feet, my mind, become numb
from standing in line all day --
lines to eat, shower, shit
in the dirty outdoor benjos.
Evenings I sweep my anger
off the barracks floor,
but the next morning it's coated
with dust, corners filled again.
Shikata ga nai, my parents keep
chanting. There is nothing
to be done. I watch
my father grow thin. Nights
he plays his shakuhachi flute,
the sound not unlike the cries
outside the barracks. The wind,
he says, takes everything.
I think this must be true.
I have taken walks inside
the barbed-wire fences,
and all the words
are pulled from my mouth.
My brothers, too, scattered
like dust. Ken fights
in the all-Nisei combat unit,
and Toji, who said No once,
No again, taken to Tule Lake.
My scalp itches and flakes, my lips,
my hand, chapped and cracked.
Sometimes I use a drop of cooking oil
to keep from blowing away.

Copyright 1995 by Lee Ann Roripaugh. First appeared in Parnassus: Poetry in Review 20, nos. 1-2 (Twentieth Anniversary Issue 1995). Reprinted in Beyond Heart Mountain, Viking Penguin, 1999.