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Minidoka American Concentration Camp, ©Densho, 2020 


The worst thing they said was the dust, dust in the their nostrils, dust that seeped in through the newspaper sealed cracks in the middle of the night, dust that covered their faces like death powder on corpses in Japan.  Dust and high winds that swirled in the summer sending tumble weeds across the desert landscape, rolling like giant balls in a free for all soccer game. Dust that turned to mud in a moments notice, after the sky cracked up in the middle of a scorching day, thunder and lightening sometimes hail pounding in the tar paper covered barracks, bringing cooling relief and water to the desolate desert behind barbed wire where, they were imprisoned. Dust became mud.  Mud dried to fine silt, that massaged your toes, before it turned to dust again, before the sunset sent rays of pink, red, and orange across the horizon, blessing the sage, the juniper tree, the broom brush, the rattlesnakes, the ticks with silent beauty at the end of day, reminding them that deep in themselves red blood pulsed , and its drumbeat announced they were human.

They were the people that coaxed roses out of the desert heat, that planted hollyhocks, gobo, tomatoes, and pole beans to grace their barrack walls, to resist the misery and abandonment by the country they loved.  Their country turned to war over and over again to seize and to feed greed and stave off fear. Their country, part of their world of endless wars, churning up, a mud perpetually mired in sickness, a mud that grips our minds, a mud that does not allow escape. Mud sloughed by bleeding, by bodies turned nameless, by the explosion of minds, mud that slings masks of deaths.  The hungry ghosts howl.

You showed us that sometimes there are moments when we sing, paint, write. Moments when our children chase butterflies, then run under a starry night.  Sometimes the moon follows us down the road around the bend. You showed us we can wonder, we can  marvel. We can resist.

Note: On March 30, 1942 Japanese Americans on Bainbridge Island became the first to be forcibly evicted from their homes.   Eventually many of Bainbridge Islanders ended up in the desolate high desert of Minidoka War Relocation Center, Idaho along with others from Washington, Oregon, and California. This poem is dedicated to those who lived there and through living showed their resilience and resistance to government oppression. 

©Grace Morizawa, 2020


           Grace Morizawa (BAWP 1988 and 1991), taught elementary school in Oakland and was a principal in San Pablo. Currently she is writing curriculum on the Japanese American incarceration for National Japanese American Historical Society.

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