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Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column


This month, we feature California-based Yonsei writer, Kendall Tani, and Arizona-based Sansei writer, Susan Yamamura. Susan’s is a lighthearted parody poem that heralds where we look for some solace during a time of major strife, while Kendall’s first piece featured here, soft bodies, speaks to a relationship with oneself through an intimate practice of shaping earth (and future) by hand. Both reminded me of the ideas of comfort and doing something good for poetry, a vessel through which we might practice introspection, our potential, or a bit of peace....enjoy.

—traci kato-kiriyama

* * * * *

Kendall Tani is a “sometimes-artist” currently based in their hometown of Mammoth Lakes, CA. Much of their artwork, whether visual or written, draws from their personal experience as a fourth-generation Japanese American (Yonsei) navigating mental health and finding and creating community. Kendall has spent the past year focusing their creative energies into the multidisciplinary Asian American arts collaborative Bonbu Stories, which combines music, spoken word, taiko, and movement to explore vulnerability and connection. When not making art or working at their family’s Japanese restaurant, they can be found baking and appreciating all things cute (especially dogs).


soft bodies

The feel of fingers
sinking into my skin like

anchors embedding themselves
in shallows, gouging out

supple clay to shape and raze
and shape again

persists, a phantom memory
I can never seem to shake

I tried to disguise my fear of touch
and tenderness

as a fondness for
the reliable violence of fire

and its power
to scorch and scar my form

into solidity, earthenware
being birthed in a kiln

but I couldn’t convince you this
self-embalmment was self-love

that finding asylum as an artifact
for future hands to hold

without leaving traces
of their touch

was worth the sacrifice
of flesh and feeling

you showed me how touch
could mold elastic earth

without harm, that there is
a certain immortality

in the flux of workable bodies
and flexible flesh

that we are full of futures,
of perpetual potential to become.

you make me soft
and indestructible.


currents carry me
away from shore, my
memories and what-could-bes
floating out into the sea, flotsam
of a life lived
and being lived
and about to be lived.

out in the open remoteness,
salted air over salted water with
vicissitudes of blues,
I am just a body in a body,
an expanse in an even
greater vastness,

drifting, drifting.

* These poems are copyrighted by Kendall Tani (2020)


* * * * *

Susan Yamamura was born in Seattle, WA in 1940. She and her family were sent to Camp Harmony, WA and Camp Minidoka, ID. She graduated from the University of Washington, Seattle, in 1962. She first worked as a computer programmer at Space Technology Labs in Redondo Beach, CA and later at the Boeing Co in Seattle. Susan retired from managing a computer and graphics lab in the Chemistry Department at the University of Arizona in 1997.

She had a son with Hank Yamamura; Hank passed away in 2008. She currently lives in Tucson, Arizona.


Two Weeks After Lockdown
My Sincere Apologies to Clement Moore

‘Twas a fortnight after lockdown, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse
The face masks were hung by the chimney with care
In hopes that the heat would kill any viruses there:

The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of more home school danced in their heads;
And I in my kerchief, and papa in his cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long lockdown nap,

When from my stomach there arose such a rumble
I sprang from my bed and narrowly averted a tumble
I flew to the pantry and threw open the doors
Could I find ingredients for S’mores?

When what to my wondering eyes did appear
But ingredients for treats with nothing to fear
There was mochiko, sugar and coconut milk too
I’d have goodies to spare, before morning dew

I dashed to my kitchen, googled chichidango in a flash
Heated the oven and soon mixed a batch
It baked in an hour and before long I knew
The joy of eating some Japanese comfort food too.

* This poem is copyrighted by Susan Yamamura (2020)


© 2020 Kendall Tani; Susan Yamamura

Kendall Tani Nikkei Uncovered poet poetry social distancing Susan Yamamura

About this series

Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column is a space for the Nikkei community to share stories through diverse writings on culture, history, and personal experience. The column will feature a wide variety of poetic form and subject matter with themes that include history, roots, identity; history—past into the present; food as ritual, celebration, and legacy; ritual and assumptions of tradition; place, location, and community; and love.

We’ve invited author, performer, and poet traci kato-kiriyama to curate this monthly poetry column, where we will publish one to two poets on the third Thursday of each month—from senior or young writers new to poetry, to published authors from around the country. We hope to uncover a web of voices linked through myriad differences and connected experience.

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