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Jalina Mhyana

On Buying our Daughter a Camera

               For Akychame

She was with me today, a gosling at my side,
her clicks corresponding to mine as we stole
the world the way tourists and artists do

She learned the world by seeing it
from behind her new glass --
in the Japanese graveyard
a Buddha statue holding three stone babies
is flanked with old toys
& pinwheels --
this is how she learns
that not all children reach seven

We photographed fishermen
on their corroded boats,
decorated with bamboo poles &
colorful flags, superstition helping
the catch for these people who live with one hand
always in the ocean, their boats lined up
along the shore like a giant baleen,
sifting animals that are small enough
to fit on a dinner plate

We saw the wind make waves in the sand
corresponding with waves in the water, and
the weeds that somehow grow there on
a diet of rock and salt

We captured the world in its entirety, she
shooting from below, looking up, and me
shooting from above

More than once I urged her stand back,
to shoot something else
than what I was, so that she would stop standing
between my subject and the sun,
blocking necessary light

Looking at those pictures now, I can see the
presence of my daughter in every one, her gray
silhouette cast across temples, fishing boats, sacred trees --
a tiny shadow seeing the world
through her mother's eyes

I am guilty of this too often, and soon she will be
grown, leafing through these same photographs and
remembering only that she was blocking my light

August 6, 1945

Dedicated to the Hibakusha, Japanese
survivors of the atomic bombings

There's a grave for my mother
at Hiroshima
where you can still see victims'
shadows printed on the ground
where they burned --
human-shaped photograms
blackening the sidewalks
that would have caught their falls

Women wrapped like sushi
in kimono still have the cloth's
flowered designs burned
onto aged flesh -- cherry blossoms
that never fade or fall,
eternal springtime
branding them Japanese

The Hibakusha exchange letters
of condolence with Auzwitch,
people branded with numbers
like digital clocks on their forearms
telling them when to fall
to the poison air --
like the blossoms that threaten
to fall from Japanese skin like bombs,
or autumn leaves

I spent that year hiding
my ruined face with thinning
hair, planting rice shoots & new beginnings
in the half-foot of water
that suckled my ankles,
swallowing poisons from my roots

I collect flowers in summer
for my mother's headstone
& leave fruits --
as I pluck blossoms overhead
I see my own shadow, not unlike
the ones captured forever
on city steps & sidewalks

If a bomb fell on me now
this is how I would look --
a girlish shadow reaching above itself,
untiring arms ever awaiting
the blossoms its vaporous hands
could never hold

If my mother's arms were
reaching overhead she would
have been throwing my baby sister
mid-air, never to be caught
& never to fall, the day
their shadows outlived them

©2003 by Jalina Mhyana

Jalina Mhyana is co-editor of Rock Salt Plum Poetry Review, an online journal, and her chapbook, Spikeseed, is forthcoming from Bad Moon Books in 2004. Jalina has lived in northern Japan for the past six years, where she owned and operated a massage therapy college. Currently the bulk of Jalina's time is spent homeschooling her two wonderful daughters. See more of her work at her Web site.

"August 6, 1945" was originally published in A Room of One's Own.

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