In a backyard suburb east of the Willamette river
my grandma sat my cousins & me around a well
waxed wooden table, had us pronounce each other’s
middle names until we could do so without stumbling.
Our middle names are our Japanese names.
Each one passed on like a good rumor from an aunt
or grandparent, something we inherited
the way we did our molars from our mothers.
I say my Japanese name & I’m also saying
my grandpa’s, Susumu. In Kauai, he heated
bathwater by shoveling a hole below the tub
& burning bits of tree bark in a pit.
Still he can hear crowds of Filipino uncles
far into the crop fields hollering in a circle
around two grim roosters until one flops
on its side & kicks dust in the air.
I say Susumu & I cough up a talon or two,
a cracked beak, a cloud of dust. My mouth
brims in hot bathwater & the room fills
with miles of steam. Eventually,
it finds its way back to Hiroshima. A fish
warehouse, a port, somewhere that still sits
in the back of my throat whenever I say
my Japanese name.
I say Susumu & what I mean is
I can point to a prefecture in Japan
& know my family crossed the deepest
ocean & didn’t drown.
Cover Art by Stephanie Broussard