My Middle Name is Susumu

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

Troy Osaki

Troy Osaki is a Filipino Japanese poet, community organizer, and attorney from Seattle, WA. A three-time grand slam poetry champion, he has received fellowships from Kundiman and the Jack Straw Cultural Center and grant awards from Artist Trust and the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture. His work has appeared in the Bellingham Review, Drunk in a Midnight Choir, Moss: A Journal of the Pacific Northwest, and elsewhere.

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