Three Poems

W. Todd Kaneko

Looking Outside Airplane Windows

 

I expect to see that boy
in the clouds, sad faced,
barbed wire tattoo ablaze
where no one can see it—

not a tattoo but a scar wrapped
around his belly like a belt
cinched tight to hold his body

together. Every cloud dissolves
one day, leaving so many boys
in the sky, hanging, waiting to fall
back to Earth. Girls too, hearts

where their stomachs should be,
guts twisted into brambles
now for the body’s deep sorrow
because we have so many words
for clouds: father, grandfather,

and one day, son. We spend our lives
searching for your shapes.

You already resemble those shapes
we know by heart.

All the Things that Make Heaven and Earth

 

The soil, the livestock, our memories of the war,
everything flourishing before it vanishes—breath

severed clean from our bodies, our shadows
sunset-deepened and woven with dirt,

whole family trees succumbed to the blight.
My grandfather returns to life, back still

bent by history’s quiet yoke, his memories
of camp forever decaying into the tiny garden

behind my house where my father’s death
is the soil, where silence blossoms now

all year round. Or the soil is my grandfather
eating darkness, the spectral memory of camp

that feasts upon my father and his father,
me and my son. There are no such things

as ghosts—I tell my son this every evening
as he gazes up the dark stairwell towards his room.

What will be waiting for us when my boy
is old enough to ask where he comes from?

What will we find when our memories of camp
finally molder back into the ground?

Horses’ Mouths

 

When the army brought us to the stables on our way to internment, they warned us about talking to the animals. We crowded into the stalls at night and listened to the horses explain the difference between sugar and glue, the weight of plow and cart, the jangle of spurs against bare flank. Their manes sizzled blue, electric as they told us about Silver riding the Lone Ranger back from the dead, about Man O’War outracing death. They told us about Comanche, who survived the Battle of Little Big Horn and then survived America and we shuddered. Outside, the horses hurtled across the landscape, from sea to shining shoreline, then back across the badlands. Pegasus stirred the windstorm with ancient wings. Sleipnir struck lightning with all eight hooves against the prairie. Longma broke a cobalt sky with Chinese fire while we hid our faces under thin blankets. The horses sang low songs for us, the blues for animals who are more than animals. The horses used our voices because the words did not fit in their mouths. When the horses were gone, the trucks took us to the internment camp.

 

Question: What did the horses say?

a) Horses belong to the world.
b) There are no horses, just smells of horses.
c) We should not speak about these things

 

From Hunger Mountain Issue 23: Silence & Power, which you can purchase here.

Art by @anna_croc01, curated by Dana Lyons.

W. Todd Kaneko is the author of THE DEAD WRESTLER ELEGIES (Curbside Splendor, 2014) and THIS IS HOW THE BONE SINGS (Black Lawrence Press, 2020), and co-author with Amorak Huey of POETRY: A WRITER’S GUIDE AND ANTHOLOGY (Bloomsbury Academic, 2018). A Kundiman fellow, he is co-editor of the literary magazine Waxwing and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan where he teaches at Grand Valley State University.