OUT OF THE MARGINS On Giving Fire by Sophia E. Terazawa

The OUT OF THE MARGINS series continues with a piece by poet and performance artist Sophia E. Terazawa. In this essay, Terazawa fuses text and image into a hybrid literary form, to give us a glimpse into the experience of having mixed Vietnamese-Japanese ancestry. www.sophiaterazawa.com/

sophiaterazawa

ON GIVING FIRE:

a series of love letters among parents

by Sophia E. Terazawa

How does a man prepare to meet his dead father-in-law for the first time?

 

On the morning of December 2nd, 1996, my father intends to do his best. He tucks the

bottom of his yellow polo shirt into the waistband of his khakis. He combs his hair and

adjusts the wristwatch. Leaning toward a mirror above the small wash basin, he will notice

that his face appears nervous. He adjusts that, too.

 

1fire_terazawa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Husband, you have the camera?

Husband, you ready?

Husband, you take the children?

            Yes, Wife.

2fire_terazawa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I watch my father cough and clear his throat. He pats me on the shoulder and says it

is time to go.

 

    Hai, ikimashou.

 

In the stone. Of the stone.

Husband does not know.

            Yes, Wife, I know.

NO!

No! Husband not know! NOT KNOW!

 

When they fight, if they fight, my parents fight,

first, in English, always English and

second, in code.

 

My father is the only son of a Japanese military family. Mami, the one with eyes, flees

infinitely sometime between 111 BC and 1989. She finally returns with a Japanese man and

a family of her own in 1996. I imagine my parents fight that December. I do not remember

if this is a fact, as they always fight in English and in code. My father, he knows. Mami

does not think this is a fact.

 

The fact is this:

Mami father die in Vietnam.

Mami take a Japanese man

and children in 1996.

Visit grave of Mami father.

Mami say,

Husband, you take the children?

Husband say, Wife, I know.

 

I see the stone. It is my grandfather. The stone is my grandfather.

Circular and always present, present-speak.

He catch fire.

Does Husband know? What it like to catch fire?

 

Yes, Mami, he knows. My father was born with a spark in his belly. He was born with two

atom droplets in the blood. One year after birth, he bit his tongue in half and howled. Yes,

Mami, my father knows what it is like to burn from the inside out. Seize.

But Mami father hurt in a different way.

 

Yes, Wife, I know.

 

NO!

No! Husband not know! NOT KNOW!

I

WILL

SHOW

YOU.

 

Then in a concrete hall, I watch Mami proceed to dance. With every turn, she weaves a

memory with the space. It is all grey, like this:

on the side of a dirt road,

feces,

palms blackened in diesel fuel,

the bowels of an entire history in steel,

leave Wife without a kneecap,

the gold star in Mami’s sky.

 

My father knows this story already. He has to know. At least, that is what I remember to

be fact.

 

What was it like for him to meet a golden ghost?

Incense laid to rest where ash was once bone?

 

“Greetings,” my father would have said. “I cannot speak to you, father of my Wife. In a

normal situation, I would prove my status to be of great worth to impress you. For

example, I am the only son of a strong man, who comes from a pure Japanese line. We

have had the honor of killing many…”

 

The honor.

 

I should have looked up then to see if Mami winced. But I was too young. Instead, I

watched my father turn to her in earnest. He would have been unsure about what to say

next. In the jungle humidity. Mosquitoes. An ache buried so deeply, that even he once

sobbed when no one was watching.

 

Yes, he would be staring at Mami that day. The smoking stick pressed between the palms

of his hands. My aunties and uncles would have giggled to each other through their

marbled lips. “What a strange culture. The Japanese Husband.”

 

But Mami… she would have been completely still. Her gaze and his gaze locked into each

other. Her eyes pressed between the palms of his hands.

 

How does one define this kind of love, though this word has never passed through our

lips? VOID, I AM a child, the BOY and girl of a new Demilitarized Zone, the middle ground

of a killing field. Which is WHICH? Mami, I AM the HUNGER STRIKE and witness to the

occupation of Husband and Wife.

3fire_terazawa
My father twists the wristband. After careful thought, he decides what to say to the dead

father-in-law for the first time.

 

“You were killed in a time of war. Your daughter survived. It is an honor to be with you, my

father.”

 

An honor.

 

To have given war,

to have received war,

and receive war, and

receive it, and receive

it, and receive it, and receive it, and receive it, and birth it,

and live it, and bury it, and resurrect it

like song… Father, what is the price of our love?


(photo by Dylan Lee Lowry) I close my eyes, but the blue is too much. Pen touches paper, touches ocean. I drown. Here, in this place of suffocation, I must write. Feel the body, the wooden creaks, not unlike a sinking refugee boat. My mother reminds me of this every time a poem unravels in my mind. Yes, poetry is my mother, but she moves like a phantom. Underwater. Fundamentally, she is the outsider, border-crossing, Vietnamese-American, hyphenated womb. What does that make me? Us? Children walking like fishermen...

(photo by Dylan Lee Lowry)
Artist’s Statement: “I close my eyes, but the blue is too much. Pen touches paper, touches ocean. I drown. Here, in this place of suffocation, I must write. Feel the body, the wooden creaks, not unlike a sinking refugee boat. My mother reminds me of this every time a poem unravels in my mind. Yes, poetry is my mother, but she moves like a phantom. Underwater. Fundamentally, she is the outsider, border-crossing, Vietnamese-American, hyphenated womb. What does that make me? Us? Children walking like fishermen…”

Sophia Terazawa is a poet and performer working with ghosts. Her work appears in Project As[I]Am, The Fem, HYSTERIA, and elsewhere. http://www.sophiaterazawa.com

This post is part of diaCRITICS’ Vietnamese American Literary Series, OUT OF THE MARGINS, launched in 2015-16. The series curates literary work from poets, writers and artists of Vietnamese-American and Vietnamese diasporic experience. Our mission is to create an inclusive, diverse, provocative, ongoing space for voices and visions from this community, thus bringing them out of the margins. Dao Strom is the series editor and curator.


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