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Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column


Poet, educator, and co-founder of Yonsei Memory Project, Brynn Saito brings the Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column to a close for 2022 with writing that is at turns spare and present, expansive and lush—all the things I crave in poetry at this time of year, when the chill of this season tends to bring us to a quiet space earlier each evening. I share Brynn’s desire for “the sitting place where ghosts visit” and her writing provides a necessary stillness to contemplate our cravings. Her poetry gives permission to be close to all that pulls at us - prayers for our future selves, reminders that the fires remember us, that “every poem is a love poem.” Thank you, Brynn, for these gifts. 

—traci kato-kiriyama

* * * * *

Brynn Saito’s third book of poetry, Under a Future Sky, will be published in September 2023 by Red Hen Press. She is the recipient of the Benjamin Saltman Award and her poems have appeared in the New York Times and American Poetry Review. Brynn lives in Fresno, CA, where she is an Assistant Professor at California State University, Fresno, located on Yokuts and Mono lands, and co-director of Yonsei Memory Project.


Dear Reader

Do you believe in the wide open
          privacy of the desert, do you believe
                    in the prophecy of stones? My desire

for you is eternal and makes you eternal.
          My desire’s the shape of three columbines
                    blooming in a cracked riverbed.     

Do you believe in the distant silent
          company of the women in your family,   
                    the continuity of the clandestine?

Do you memorialize wire, do you
          ritualize joy? I want to fall nightly
                    to the sitting place where ghosts visit,  

draw a bath for the goddess of all things
          that flow: Water, words, time. Speech, sound,
                    knowledge. Were you afraid 

of what you might say to yourself in the face
          of the page’s stillness, under the hailstorms
                    of an arid high desert? I was afraid. 

So lonely at the writing desk, I imagined you
          drinking midnight tea, or turning your face
                    to the shameless marigolds, or rising 

with your daughter’s cry in the blue light
          of dawn. Do you imagine me?
                    None of the fires have forgotten you

don’t tell me otherwise. Forgive the rotting daikon
            the gobo overgrowing the old yard.
                    I’ve made a ceremony of ghosts.


Poem for the Solstice

When bats approach the summer deck
I admit my loneliness.
When the sky sears brighter
with the sun’s descent
hummingbirds plunge through the mind’s dusk

refusing the mountain. I’m nightswimming
with an inner light, meaning writing again, meaning
trying to pray to a future self
who knows the name of every oak,
pine, and wildflower

seeking water. I want to write you a love poem
but my grandmother’s face
is a blooming cumulus
ten stories above the tallest fir.
Do you see her?

I want to tell you about shame’s persuasion
but the wild hemlock
is higher than it's ever been
for so much rain. Season of failure
season of photosynthesis and spring’s coreopsis

burning into summer
teach me to be worthy and undeserving
at the same time.
Tell me there’s a goddess here
biennial and aster-shaped

a distributed resilience threading child self
to child self, woody and ascendent
as sage. When I allow myself
these alpine desires
every poem is a love poem. 

When the lupine’s organized beauty
brings imaginary wolves
I bow to the bluestem.
I follow the queen of stillness
back into my body and will my life to change.

*All poems are unpublished and forthcoming in Under a Future Sky (Red Hen Press, Fall 2023).


© 2022 Brynn Saito

Brynn Saito poem poetry

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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