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Naoko Fujimoto





Mother cleans

Grandfather’s apartment. She picks up a photo

documentary; Auschwitz.

“A heavy, dusty book,” she calls it.


I ask her, “Will I go to war?”

Holding a vacuum cleaner, she says,

“I want your pain.” In the smallest

room, my sister cries, her growing teeth.



Grandfather watches TV on the highest volume,

the howling-wind.


He lost his voice seventeen years ago,

stroke. This mouth, and the quietness—

like the people in those black and white photos.



Piles of Jewish clothes, glasses, and hair,

half-naked bodies and holes in the ground,

their stark tongues with dirt in their mouths.

A last word adheres to their throats.



After the atomic bomb in Hiroshima,

Grandfather stood alone on a black hill.

He saw nothing but smoke.

Burnt skin hanging from arms.


Under the August sky, his mother

listened to an imperial speech from a radio.

Japan was lost. Mud beneath her finger nails.


Miles away from home,

he listened to that speech. A stranger

gave him a towel.


A white towel. He wiped his face.

It smelled like dandelions; mother’s hands.



The Coldest Day Is For Beans


A bumble bee hive swayed;

never seen them flying. Sleet

hid the oval shape.


Grandmother lit kitchen stoves

and kerosene-oil heaters.

Azuki-beans drained in the strainer.


No sugar yet. Bitterness must be gone.

I changed the water

and placed them back into the pot.


All windows fogged.

Cooking air condensed.

Can I add now?


She curled her back and fell asleep.

Her forehead touched the tatami-mattress.



In Lawrenceville; Honeymoon


Time and again; time              and again; I sit

and stay in my Japanese body; no


honeymoon: no

dining table: eight months and three


thousand dollars          an Asian

or Pacific Islander resident.


Immigrant; it’s pending: I can do

nothing: I am


nothing until it clears; I can’t hire you

secretaries treat me as             an illegal


alien,               warn my red

passport will expire soon. I smack


a laundry basket into a chair                           I feel

accomplished in this country; in Lawrenceville,


Illinois: two

blocks down from a Catholic church: we rent


an apartment               behind a gas station.

-from Where I Was Born (Aquarius Press/Willow Books/AUXmedia, 2019), selected by Fall 2020 Guest Editor Angela Narcisco Torres

Naoko Fujimoto was born, raised in Nagoya, Japan, and studied at Nanzan Junior College. She was an exchange student and received a B.A. and M.A. from Indiana University. Her forthcoming poetry collections are "Where I Was Born", winner of the editor's choice by Willow Books (2019), "Glyph:Graphic Poetry=Trans. Sensory" by Tupelo Press (2020), and "Mother Said, I Want Your Pain", winner of the Shared Dream Immigrant Contest by Backbone Press (2018). Her first chapbook, “Home, No Home” (2016), won the annual Oro Fino Chapbook Competition by Educe Press and another short collection, “Silver Seasons of Heartache” (2017) by Glass Lyre Press, are available from each press. She is a RHINO associate & out-reach translating editor.

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