december is honored to present audio recordings from our winner and honorable mention for this year’s poetry contest. These poems are featured in Vol. 29.1; to purchase or subscribe click here.
Brian Dunlap — 2018 Winner, Those Who Come Before Us
THOSE WHO CAME BEFORE US
I hear Japanese flowing
between the laughter of young friends.
One wears a UCLA sweatshirt. In
Little Osaka. In
West Los Angeles.
Tiko Drums boom
through the parking lot
of the West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple.
Sending a message of thanksgiving
to all who have gone before us.
Of immigrants from Wakayama
who created a Japanese fishing village
on Terminal Island,
gone over 40 years
by the time I was born in ‘84.
Working class families — fishermen —
speaking in their own lingo. Rapid
rough fishermen’s talk, blended with
Japanese and English. Nisei children
attending Japanese language school
after a day of learning English
at their public school. Before
executive order 9066
sent them to internment camps.
Internment camps set up for people
who only wanted to build community.
Since the late 1930s,
Japanese basketball leagues
populate the Southern California landscape
where a few of my friends and peers, where
Klaude Kimura, as we graduated
from one LAUSD grade to the next,
can come together as a Japanese community,
where basketball exists as one of the few places
for Japanese American youth
to hang out with other
young Japanese Americans.
Where, at game’s end —
heads high, breaths heavy —
they shake hands with their opponents,
sweat dripping from their faces.
Some parents bringing game snacks
of rice balls or noodles.
And on Sawtelle I
pass Hashimoto’s and Tabuchi’s nurseries,
smell the richness of wet dirt,
see the splash of Fuchsias’
tiny trumpet shaped magenta flowers,
reminders of when,
in the 1930s and ‘40s,
Japanese farmed flowers
and strawberries here.
Now, in the early morning, as Angeleños still sleep,
grabs his surfboard,
jumps in his car,
ready to tear up the Southern California waves.
Geoff Rips — 2018 Honorable Mention, Day of the Dead
DAY OF THE DEAD
Ask the pimply recruit patrolling the Afghan village,
looking left to right, up and down, in a dark alley,
index finger in spasms against the cold trigger.
Ask him how long this patrol lasts,
this block goes on, this night extends,
and he’ll say, forever. Ask the mother
with three children on the other side of the wall
holding her breath, her arms across their shoulders,
all staring at the floor. Ask her
when they’ll exhale. Never,
she might say. Never.
And the hawk
circles above the yellowed field
on an airless day; the deer mouse
cowers in the shadow of the mesquite,
its marble-size heart quivering. The kisses
of long-dead lovers still shimmer in evening light.
All this spiraling through space
aboard a planet anchored to a star
in a galaxy pinwheeling away
from the beginning.
We give the dead a day
because that’s all we can stand, all
we can devote to creating a pinhole
to the great unfathomable spreading out over eternity,
a bridge connecting us to what is no longer here,
this life a gift enjoyed and lost
in the same instant, wrapped in a universe
with no before and no after. Endless loops
of memories, minerals, and desire.
If you ask the dead how long they’ve been dead,
they won’t know what you mean.