A Poet's Kiss

Albuquerque poet Mary Oishi puts poems, pictures, and thoughts here for her family and friends, and for lovers of poetry everywhere.

Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States

Friday, September 08, 2006

i am a poet

i am a poet

i am a poet to reclaim the ravages of war
to amplify the human heartbeat in the chest of the enemy
to remind the soldier that he once was a child who dissolved into sobs
at the death of a dog

i am a poet to reclaim the ravages of war
rained by one race, one religion on another
sometimes between nations
sometimes within them
i cut all skins and mingle the red blood indistinguishable on the page
i fuse all prayers into one chant of longing for a justice, a goodness
that yet eludes us

i am a poet to reclaim the ravages of war
to pluck the child from beneath the bruising arm of rage
to pluck the woman from the path of rape’s intruding missile
to hold them up in sundrenched mist where they can sparkle golden
and untarnished as the day they burst this world a breath of god

i am a poet to reclaim humanity from the ravages of war
not to count the casualties but to heal them

i am a poet and my task is immense
i cannot do it alone
but an army of poets can kiss the world awake

mary oishi

Audio version on the CD "kiss the world awake" produced by Poetry Television
Video version on the upcoming film, Word, previewed at the 2005 National Poetry Slam

predawn sorority

predawn sorority

i live by myself but not alone
i’m woken by a mother’s wail half a world away
her child buried in the rubble in the bomb crater
and i cannot sleep
my dreams visited by an african grandmother/ troubled
trying to hold on/what will her AIDS-orphaned grandchildren do
without her/and i’m troubled too
and get up and worry the water into a pot of tea at two am
i sip slowly on hot tears and keep company with my sisters
and pray i do not fall prey to all that passes for sanity in this world
pray that i stay madly loving without succumbing to the madness
slip my prayer around the missile trajectory to touch that one
who’s on the brink
to shore her up from my kindred heart
to let her know I have picked up the soundwaves of her suffering
to offer one small respite dipped from the quiet of my night
night by myself but not alone

mary oishi
2 december 2004

Published in the 2006 Nuclear Resistance Calendar

white on white haiku

alabaster vase
i remember sweet and soft
and white gardenias

mary oishi
july 2005

Published in Central Avenue poetry magazine, 2005

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Sacred Deer at Nara

I bowed to the deer, holding a biscuit over my head. He bowed to me and took the biscuit. There are 1200 protected deer at the Shinto temple complex in Nara. Their pupils are rectangular like a goat's, but their pupils are horizontal in their irises rather than vertical. If you ever visit Japan, you must see the bowing deer of Nara. They are indeed a National Treasure of Japan. (Hint: hold the biscuit up high while you're bowing).

a beautiful homecoming

When I was at the World Conference Against Racism in 2001, I witnessed a very moving event when Winnie Mandela spoke to a huge tent full of people. She said, "As I look out over the crowd, I see that many of you have ancestors who were stolen from this continent centuries ago. For some of you, it's your first time back. I say, it's about time--and welcome home!" With that, those in the audience from the African diaspora jumped to their feet, waved their arms, tears streaming down their faces. I wept too, thinking how healing it would be if I were to go back to Japan, my mother's homeland, and get such a beautiful welcome home. I had no idea that five years later that's exactly what would happen. I was invited to give a speech at Wakakusa School, with over 400 teenagers in the audience, as well as faculty (sensei) and administrators. I spoke of my personal history, being a child of a Japanese warbride and an American soldier. I spoke of the suffering on all sides and the lingering effects of World War II. I spoke of the absolute necessity for peace. After my speech and question and answer period, a young man came up on the stage and said a few remarks in English about the importance of my words. And a young woman placed these beautiful flowers in my arms. I was choking back tears. It was a consummate moment in my life.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

a few fragments from my trip to Japan

waiting for the flight to tokyo

BART is crawling along the hem of the hills
a raven takes off straight and unflinching
across the rooftop from the airport cafe window
everything is pointed east far east moving
i am reading ruth ozeki's my year of meats
trying to understand like the protagonist
my mixed heritages my disparate
cultural inheritance me ingredients
i am practicing my japanese phrases
practicing the speech i will deliver in english
a language of none of my ancestors
but the first one i learned
the only one i know without thinking
the sun has yet to set on that empire i think
on and on goes the conquest
the colonizing and i am the product
of a johnnny-come-lately wouldbe colonizer
getting smacked down by the empire's
ruthless child lawless child
my father naive young farmer's son
believing in the story told to the poor
to the ones who lay down their lives
who take lives viciously to keep it marching
{god save the queen}
my mother charming daughter
charming damaged daughter of the upstart empire
witness to war crimes too horrible
to speak for decades
both with kindness still
holding outpost in their hearts
passed on to their children
along with the anger the violence
the clenched fists
and here i am trying to end world war II at last
trying to halt the marching
heal the wounds
traverse the distance between
san francisco and tokyo
plant seeds in the fading footprints of
mac arthur's men of truman's treachery
planting gentle seeds in the soft rend
of my own heart

mary oishi
29 may 2006

my first morning in japan i am wakened
by the call of a bird unlike any i ever heard
ahl arrrr arrrr it calls midflight
like it is heralding the dawn through a bamboo tube
another bird answers in less dreamlike shrill chirps
happy acknowledgements
my daughter stirs slightly
smiling in her sleep
happy on this futon in this
pleasant stark room
shoes arranged neatly outside the door
bless her for coming here in the first place
for giving me this extra incentive
so i would finally go back to my rice patties
as the schoolkids once demanded

i saw my first rice patties
in their neat little flooded rows
yesterday from the train window
last night i saw my first rows of lanterns
over the night streets
just like the ones in that mysterious
old photograph my mother left behind
the one with a dot pencilled
over one head in the crowd
but nobody knows who it is
and she's not here to tell anymore

i thought i would be overcome with emotion
thought my heart would pound
at the first sight of its shoreline
thought i would want to kiss its ground
as soon as i landed
but the trip was grueling
the immigration line long long long
too much hassle to allow the sentimental
romantic homecoming i imagined

yet as i walked the back streets of
tokyo's working class neighborhoods last night
encountered a festival with its food and
games of chance tubs of aquarium fish
smiling children bonzai trees
stunning white flowers
as i walked among faces so varied
in features and skintone yet all japanese
i felt at ease in a strange way
like i was among relatives
people who smiled at me broadly

i thought of mom running
down such corridors of fire
when everything safely familiar turned
furnace by the american planes overhead
i wondered if the old ones in their kimonos
tried not to remember
if it was so much trying
that put a sober kind of sadness
in their aging eyes

mary oishi
30 may 2006

was this a dream of unfamiliar birdsongs
cloud-haloed mountains
of pagoda-pierced cityscapes
pachinko and neon
five-story tv screens
five-way crosswalks thronging at two o'clock
tuesday afternoon
was it a dream of forty foot bronze buddhas
of fuzzy-antlered buck bowing to
yellow-capped school children
of westerners waiting like hunters with cameras
for geisha to emerge for
a fleeting twenty seconds
on a kyoto street
was it a dream of glimmers of great grandparents
given names, a few dates
at long last
was it a dream of artfully prepared foods
of a kind old japanese couple
elegant and loving
hosting us in their home
was it a dream of narrow
yamanashi alleys
and bicycle bells
of sunsets on ricefields
of sunsets on rivers
dotted with cranes and lovers
was it a dream of high speed trains
with ample legroom
filled with men in suits reading
comic books newspapers and porn
was it a dream of gourmet bento lunches
in train stations
ubiquitous vending machines
with peace and hope cigarettes
canned lattes and fresh cucumbers
was it a dream of upper middle class women
and their well-groomed children
wearing shirts with nonsensical
english sayings
if the sky (or heaven) falls
we will catch (the lark)
of twinkle stars
lily poem
casual dog style
string along with organizer
don't come home alone
when darkening
i want to see the change in the world
with this eye
engrish engrish everywhere
ninety-eight dollar shirts at the mall
twenty-three dollar chopsticks
curtained photo booths
packed with young girls
eager to put their faces
in a field of cartoon flowers
or sparkling stars
then draw or write and decorate
all over the shot to create
stamp-sized works of pop art
they will save and trade
was this a dream of a kabuki actor
in a grand white and gold kimono
floating across a tokyo stage
of the kodo troupe of taiko drummers
and rivers of blue silk
enhancing his performance
was it a dream of
a series of nine escalators
going up and up and up
in a kyoto rail station
twenty-first century echo
of the steep seven stone flights
to enlightenment at the
eighth century minobu temple
this morning, my last morning in japan
it feels like i am about to wake
from a strange and beautiful dream
a dream from deep in my
disciplined and chaotic
ancient and high tech
kind and distant
green and glass
mystic and corporate
now with ancestral memory
revived contemporary
i must return to my daily life
in america, my mother's adopted
post-war home
where she made sure life would go on
just as they have done
in the land she left behind
where they have outlasted
every nightmare
where they have steadfastly refused
to give up
just like her
just like me

mary oishi
9 june 2006

it was a time for flying a time for birds
a raven whisked me off from san francisco
a raven greeted me in tokyo
a flock were waiting in the trees of nara
each one a mystic shade of black

back at the base of the sacred mountain
a single swallow binked his beak
into the window near my bed
bink bink
bink bink
calling me into the dawn dreams
of japan at five a.m.
softer than a mother's heartbeat
consistent like taiko
bink bink
bink bink
wake up to ancestral memory
wake up to the history you were never told
welcome to it
another cultural reality
so different from our own
so long survived
so civilized
yet they too know so much pain
many still go out the old way with honor
out of courage or just being overwhelmed
with the weight of life

but those birds
those birds
those spirit birds they told me some things
i never would have known without them

i never would have known
how hearts can follow each other
across oceans and mountains and
hurts of the past
how we can fly and soar
so many different ways
how all our varied songs come from
the same place of longing
how there's so much beauty
even in the saddest call

mary oishi
6 & 7 july 2006

i thought i saw a monkey

i thought i saw a monkey
standing on the sidewalk
dirty jeans a size too big
hanging low on his hips

i thought my new glasses
would help me to see right
but as i got closer
to my great surprise
there was no monkey at all
just an old fire hydrant paint peeling
with some cast iron showing through
in random rusty patterns
that i saw {primate}

how can i trust these eyes that
age and atrophy
just when my inner vision's
growing wise

mary oishi
4 may 2006

final station of the cross

final station of the cross

She hangs suspended in space
Her head bowed with a crown of
carbon dioxide and CFCs
Her side speared by stripmines
abandoned drilling sites
nuclear waste depositories
Her faithful Whale children
beach themselves in desperate protest
but to no avail
Her faithful mountain keepers
come down from the Andes to
warn their wayward brothers
Her northern children cry out
from their irradiated Reindeer,
their disappearing Glaciers

and She cries out for Her lost children too
oh Florida Red Wolf! oh Arizona Jaguar!
oh Monk Seal! oh Heath Hen! She cries

where is my Mysterious Starling? my Great Elephantbird?
my Red Colobus Monkey? my Laughing Owl?
Clear Lake Splittail? Caspian Tiger?
Mexican Grizzly Bear? Spanish Wolf? Dwarf
Hippopotamus? Sumatran Lion? Eastern Elk?

why can’t I find my Sea Mink? my Barbary Lion?
my Ivory-Billed Woodpecker? my Hopping Mouse?

why have my children forsaken me?

but only silence--
echoes from extinction’s unmarked graves

and She dies more and more and more alone each hour
with none left to forgive the offending human child
judas to us all/ the mad marauder who
cannot wash his guilty hands in toxic waste
whose silver cities will be cast aside like sins whose
missile silos will no longer gleam in that dark hour who
too will die when She cries
for he, the fool, is in his Mother’s womb

mary oishi
14 february 2005

Note: This poem will be in the 2007 Nuclear Resistance Calendar published by the Albuquerque Center for Peace & Justice.

women when we rise

women when we rise

women, when we rise we rise heaving
panting, pushing, screaming like
big bang birthing, when we rise
women, when we rise we rise against
pain, through pain, through pain,
through more pain than one body
can stand it seems

women, when we rise it’s never just
one resurrection it’s always
bringing more life with it,
pulling the whole underworld along
it’s bursting tombs into
seedlings and springtime and
singing tomorrows when we rise

women, when we rise truth mountains
shadow-darkened for centuries
burst watermelon and high-lit ribs
plain as day for a hundred miles
when we rise
women, when we rise
secrets cry out from crevices
sulphured springs transform to sparkling,
what once was poison now is fuel
for still more rising when we rise

women, when we rise there is no
wind can take us down
tethered as we are to moon and myst’ry
women, when we rise all else is trifled:
all the foulest deeds of greed and war
all fears that spawn them gone
when women find their power

women, when we rise we rise together
out of bones unnamed and cries forgotten
bonded to our cells like
witch to stake, like slave to chain,
like hiroshima vapor to the stone,
like juarez blood to desert sand
but when we rise we bring them every soul
from the first mother forward
and goddess breath will roar from us forever
when we rise

women, when we rise we must not,
cannot, will not be put down again
when women rise
when women—
women rise!

-mary oishi
8 october 2004

a place for sorrow

a place for sorrow

when my friend jo goes out
she puts her sorrow in a kitchen drawer
between the vegetable peeler and the spatulas
and covers it with a bright red hot pad
to keep it warm and comforted while she’s away
don’t worry, she tells her sorrow,
i’ll be back to keep you company
but i can’t take you with me
out into the world—not out there
i’ve got volunteer work to do
political causes, research at the university

while she’s gone
she won’t think back all those years
to the night the police officer
shows up at her door at midnight
she knows him, shawn, he’s in her night class
at the university
she’s happy to see him—
they don’t get much company these days at any hour
her son is never in trouble
such a good boy
she knows this must be a friendly visit
while shawn is on patrol
she invites him into the living room
is your husband here, he asks
oh, such a gentleman, she thinks
can you get him?
oh, he really wants to meet bill, okay

drunk driver…so sorry…your son…

that’s what shawn comes to say at midnight?

but…but…he just graduated college…
his fiance…such a lovely girl…

she asks, expressionless, do you want a cup of tea?

now from the kitchen drawer her sorrow beckons
but she gently reassures it on her way out the door
i won’t leave you very long
her psychiatrist friend says
why don’t you flush it down the commode
oh no, she says, then it might go bother someone else
and this is my sorrow
i’ve got shoulders to carry it
and i’ve got the perfect place to keep it
while I’m gone

jo rarely leaves the house
now that she’s a fourscore widow
that old sorrow’s getting more insistent every day
so she invites others in for tea and conversation
and speaks of healthcare policy
of obscure history from her native spain
of today’s headlines, two police officers gunned down
in the line of duty
of gloria steinem’s refrigerator
sparsed with only scotch and ice cream
of her late husband’s woodcuts
done in taos where light is grand
of her poor proud students who
would never think of buying day-old bread
of greenwich village back when you could walk at night
of happier days when her son made that sugar bowl
from two small jars
she recalls the hippies with a smile
groove on it, that’s what they used to say

and all the while her old companion drapes her shoulders
brooding, brooding straight at you
and you can never quite spend time with jo alone

mary oishi
26 august 2005

the reason for poetry?

the reason for poetry?

i do not wish to use my boots to trample death
nor my words to glorify
a young woman at the poetry reading tonight
believes the man who said
the reason for poetry is death
i’d like to take her to a nearby canyon
where waxy yellow and fuchsia flowers
spring from the cacti
see if she can find a poem there
or to the maternity ward to watch a mother
breastfeed her baby for the first time
see if that mother’s eyes
may hold a thousand poems
perhaps tired but far removed from death

i’d like to show that woman
two lovers in the midst of war
but lovers nonetheless
let her hear the poems in their moans
beading on their backs like sweat
i’d like to take her gently by the hand and say
don’t take on everything the men say
as Truth for you even if they’re poets
trust your womb your second heart
see if it does not tell you
the reason for a woman’s poetry is

mary oishi
3 march 2006

father's day

father’s day

i heard a man whistle a strong tune in a parking lot
my dad whistled so much Whistle was his nickname

funny how you hate your dad so intensely
you plot ways to kill him just prior to falling into adolescent sleep

yet--you love your dad so much that a decade after his death
your impulse is to run to a whistling stranger

mary oishi

Tokyo unTold

Tokyo unTold

This poem is dedicated to the more than 100,000 civilians who lost their lives on March 10, 1945, in the firebombing of Tokyo, during which nearly half a million bombs filled with 1665 tons of napalm were dropped continuously on sleeping Tokyo by over 1000 American military aircraft, leaving over 1 million survivors homeless, leaving almost nothing standing in over 16 square miles, and leaving the rivers and canals boiling and teeming with the dead. My mother, Chizu Oishi, survived this horror. This poem is also a loving tribute to her.

you never said they used napalm
you never told me that, mom

the day i found out {it was in an email}
was the same day i came down with
the worst flu i had in 30 years
my co-workers said i looked ashen
i know i didn’t quite make it to the comode
i was wretching, wretching! god was I sick

they used napalm!
you never told me that, mom

aunt haruna told me:
me and your mother we were
watching our neighbor boy
he went crazy with all the bombing
he kept going out and waving at the airplanes
me and your mother we were watching
laughing at him he was so crazy
then somebody leaned out of one of the airplanes
and took his head right off
with a machine gun tat-tat-tat-tat just like that
then she laughed that laugh that used to
enrage the soldiers in vietnam,
you know that laugh, mom
like it’s all too horrible like
you either run out and wave at airplanes
or you’re two sisters howling from across the street

you never said they used napalm
there’s a lot you never told me, mom

what you did say stays with me
fresher than september eleventh
though i thought of it again that morning
when i saw the people running terrified
their faces full of ash
what would they do if it was all of manhattan
i thought, if the planes kept coming
then they’d know what my mother knew

the morning’s shocking news
sinks down in the guts by afternoon
and for me every afternoon is still
the afternoon of that day you told the story

i’ll never forget it if i live to be a hundred

we just had quite the day in Japantown
you telling the shopkeepers: domo arigato
i used to buy lots of tapes with just one music
you said, but then he tell me
why you not get this one—it have twenty music
more cheaper, most cheapest one
so now i buy this one tape, get twenty music

we go have sushi lunch downstairs by the moat
i watch you stack your tiles/amazed that
such a tiny woman can eat so much
it was delicious—it was a good day mom, remember?

on the bay bridge i asked that fateful question,
the one my brothers never asked
what was it like, mom? the war, what was it like?

oh, the planes just keep coming,
all night long, never stop
i was running through the streets,
everywhere buildings on fire, whole city burning
i was jumping over dead bodies as i run—
girls my age, old people, little children
i not know why i was running
anywhere i run to just as dangerous as
where i run from, i just run in sheer terror
nobody could clean anything up
and the stench! aw! it was the worst smell
i ever smell, worst smell you could imagine
i just keep running and telling myself

i told your sons the night before you died
but i didn’t say anything about napalm
i didn’t know they used napalm
you never told me that, mom

i guess you couldn’t remember
or maybe you never knew
it took so long to tell me anything at all

mary oishi
16 april 05

Published in the Harwood Anthology, Old School Books, Albuquerque 2006

transforming scars to art

in fairy tales it's easy to spin straw to gold
but here on the ground where slaves and survivors
must grind through what we grind through
there's not the least fiction when we transform scars to art
when we write it and paint it and sing it to beauty despite.

despite everything that had to be heaved through
despite the desperate prayers
despite our weary shoulders
there came that point of lightning that renewed us
that inspiration on how to make it
something else entirely
and we just knew.

and everything flowed from pen and brush and
from voices rooted in the pain of birth
crying out for life, for life, for life sublime

oh no, there's not the least fiction when we
transform scars to art
they're by far the truest stories ever told

mary oishi
19 march 2006

i will smoke again before i die

i will smoke again before i die
but it will not be tobacco in my pipe
no, it will be old hurts consumed, ascending
wisping out into the ethers
it will be all those judgments
of who and what was good for me in life
who and what was bad
it will be all those times i
clung to people places and things
all those times i wearied
and wanted to let go--but couldn't
it will be every useless worry
that never came to pass
it will be every quiet sadness
every disappointment
every insult
every shock
every hard cry

it will be all those false politenesses

all those heavy pressures to repress truths
will reduce to ash and blow away
gone all posturing and strutting just
to cover up the toxic shame infection
i will burn that shame to cinder too
my pipe will be fueled by all those barriers
that kept me so long from
loving this and that about myself
i will burn off all blaming, all projections
i will burn off all the anger and armor that came
from dreaming myself small or in danger
i will burn away excesses:
misinformation medication
illusions expectations
i will leave this life
lean and burned pure to the core
taking with me only what i brought
leaving behind a simple one syllable kiss
that the face of the world will know only as


- mary oishi 2 march 2006