State House, Salem Oregon
On June 14, 2011 (Flag Day), I was invited by Representative Tomei of Milwaukie Oregon to read a poem at the Opening Ceremony for the Oregon State House of Representatives. I was delighted and a bit daunted by this request, but the clerk gave me very detailed instructions.
1. You have a two-minute time limit.
2. The two minutes is solely for your reading; it’s not an opportunity to address the Members other than a simple ‘thank you’ or ‘thank you for having me today.’
3. Your poem must meet the guidelines criteria and it is not for purposes of lobbying the Members for any political stance or issue.
4. The convening time is fluid, but I suggest you arrive at 10:00 a.m.
I arrived early and was shown to my reserved parking place. Climbing the steps to the multi-doored entryway made me feel like an insignificant citizen entering the cavernous Chamber of the Law. Everyone, however, welcomed me an an honored guest. Here’s the poem I read from my newest book What Remains: Japanese Americans in Internment Camps with quilt artist Cathy Erickson.
They loaded us onto trucks bound for the camps
took our homes, our possessions, our land
just because we were Japanese – Japanese Americans.
Two suitcases were all we were allowed for clothes
photos, keepsakes – twenty years of our lives in America.
Your grandfather was taken right off his fishing boat.
I was cooking the evening meal when they came.
Your mother sat at the kitchen table studying for a test.
That night I cut strips of cloth from garments
I had to leave behind. And from them I sewed this quilt.
Each stitch, a remembrance – each square, rectangle a tribute
to nature’s bounty in the desolation of Heart Mountain.
I stitched in the comfort of kasuri,
the smell of wood smoke on rain-black nights,
of days when rain fell soft and even as my child’s breath.
I stitched in triangles of flowers from my wedding kimono.
And as I quilted, I whispered their names: kiku, hagi, kikyô
chrysanthemum, bush clover, Chinese bell flower.
How cheerful those curtains of plumeria, hibiscus that hung
in our bedroom, their perfume a dream of Hawaii. I sewed in
beauty and vertical rays of yellow, the sun that shone through
the barbed wire and the curtainless windows of our barracks.
The orange poppies were last, fashioned from your mother’s
hair ribbons. I planted them as an afterthought –
question marks blooming with hope.
The Lane Literary Guild sponsors the active and venerable Windfall Reading Series held at the Eugene Public Library. On May 17, 2011 they invited me to read with Kenneth Helphand in an event titled “Beauty: The Ultimate Strength.” Professor Helphand teaches architecture at the University of Oregon. His book “Defiant Gardens” documents a selection of gardens built by prisoners of war, especially those in World War II ghettos under the Nazis. For my portion of the program, I read poems from my new book “What Remains: Japanese Americans in Internment Camps,” accompanied by a slide show of corresponding quilts by Cathy Erickson. One of the poems, “Afterimage,” is written in the voice of a Japanese American man who builds a sand and stone garden at the Minidoka camp in Idaho to beautify his surroundings in the barren desert. Visit “Featured Book” on this website to read more.
Windfall Reading, May 2011
Name them and they become yours. Think of your children, who are named even before they’re born. We name our cars, our books, our homes, our pets. When John and I lived in Kyoto, we inherited two lorikeets from the family next door, who were moving back to England. The birds were always making a ruckus, cooing or chattering to one another. We named them Billy and Cooey. Sometimes we’d leave their cage door open so they could fly around upstairs while we were gone. One day we accidentally left the window open and out they flew. Billy came back, but soon perished from lovesickness.
I love books about animals. Growing up in New England, I read all the Thornton Burgess stories. Reddy Fox, Sammy Jay, Billy Skunk were as real to me as my friends in school. When we moved to our grandparent’s farm, my sister and I spent weeks taming the barn cats and giving them secret names. I still remember the day Pumpkin was run over. Nana lifted her off the road with a shovel and dropped her limp corpse in the ash pile. I watched from the upstairs window and wept at the unceremonious burial.
My friend, Doris Ober, has written a heartwarming book called The Dogtown Chronicles: Our Life and Times with Sheep, Goats, Llamas, and Other Creatures. Doris and her husband Richard populated their ten acres in this small California town with a menagerie of animals: a llama named Lloyd, a ewe named Little Lulu, Scottish Highland steer named Moe and Curly, geese called Mother Goose and Alger Hiss, and goats Mephisto and Isabella, among others. For Doris, born and raised in Manhattan, taking care of animals was a challenge. “Once I understood them, I loved them truly and deeply. This is a most selfless kind of love—love of sheep, love of goats—because understanding them means knowing deep down that they don’t love you. Not at all.” And we grieve with her when she says, “When they go, there goes part of you. Everything that was between the two of you, vanished.”
It is emotionally wrenching to lose an animal through separation or death. This is particularly true of dogs, with their unconditional love. Animals are intuitive. They sense our moods and our needs, sometimes even before we do. As Doris says “The grief we have for people who die is much different than what we feel for our pets—even for the people who have seen our true selves, as the dog and the cat and the horse have—because people are not silent, our love of them and theirs for us is conditional.”
When John and I moved out of the house that we’d rented for seventeen years, we also left behind our landlady’s Rhodesian ridgeback. Comet spent much of his time at our house; keeping me company as I gardened, sleeping on our porch on hot summer nights, romping and kicking up his heels in the pasture. He was always ready to jump into the back of John’s van for a hike, whether we were just walking locally in Tryon Creek park or setting out for an arduous hike in the Columbia River Gorge. Although we did not name Comet or own him, we felt that he was our dog. And he was—for awhile.
on the eve
of the Year of the Tiger
I dream about our dog
who we left behind
his eyes burning bright
Maggie and Comet
To see photos of the stars of Dogtown and to read more about The Dogtown Chronicles, go to www.dogtownchronicles.com
New York Odyssey
John and I often visit New York in February. Winter is a good time to be in Manhattan: few tourists, discounted hotels, and the museums feature exquisite exhibitions at a time of the year when people enjoying spending time indoors. Manhattan is a cornucopia of delights—from the variety of architecture styles to international cuisines, to the finest museums and art galleries, music of every genre, theater, and a colorful babble of languages in the streets. Like tourists, we constantly gaze upward at the skyscrapers and the shapes they form against the sky, juxtaposed to other buildings, and viewed from many angles.
We have our routines: going to our favorite places like the Metropolitan Museum and taking in jazz at the Village Vanguard. And don’t forget the earring store at Blue Ice in the Village. On this visit we spent more than six hours at the Met, even meeting our friend Arnold Steinhardt there for lunch at the Petrie Court Cafe overlooking Central Park. The Japanese wing is our favorite, particularly the Isamu Noguchi water basin. We always stop to relax, gazing at the water spilling over the rim. It reminds me of my tanka book title Always Filling, Always Full. This fountain is always filling.
E.V. Day Painting
We also enjoy discovering new things each time we visit—like strolling around Chelsea dropping into galleries. There are some amazing artists, both new and celebrated, exhibiting their recent work. One of my favorites was E.V. Day and her show at the Carolina Nitsch Gallery. Entitled “Seducers”, walls were covered with gigantic flowers which were indeed seductive, drawing the viewer into the center like an insect. E.V. spent three months in residence at Claude Monet’s estate in Giverney where she collected blooms, pressed them in a microwave, scanned them digitally, and printed them on paper eighteen times their original size. My favorite was the gorgeous pink peony. I could almost smell its fragrance!
Shinichi Maruyams’s show “Gardens” was a very modern take on Japanese gardens. “The Zen garden is the expression of boundless cosmic beauty in a physical environment, created through intense human concentration, labor, and repeated action,” Maruyama says in his artist’s statement. For us, these were more cosmic and surreal than Zen, but they were powerful as art pieces. The colors were spectacular and the images reminded us of Miro.
Elvis (aka Carlos Colon) and one of his admirers
One of the highlights of this summer was attending the Haiku North America conference in Seattle from August 3-7. The Organizing Committee: Michael Dylan Welch, Tanya McDonald, Dejah Leger, and Angela Terry along with a long list of volunteers put on a memorable weekend. Haiku North America provides not only an opportunity to talk about haiku and related forms, but to reunite with old friends and learn about their new projects through readings, presentations, and panel discussions. Previous conferences have been held in Boston, San Francisco, Toronto, New York, Chicago. Portland, Ottawa, Port Townsend, and Winston-Salem. I’ve attended nearly all of them.
This year’s theme was “Fifty Years of Haiku.” To commemorate this gathering, I chaired a panel entitled “Who Wrote That? How My Haiku Has Changed Over Three Decades,” inviting three haiku luminaries and longtime friends to be panelists: Jerry Ball, Garry Gay, and Penny Harter.
Our stories of following the haiku path were both hilarious and poignant. We began our discussion on a light note by reading our first haiku, thus demonstrating how far we’ve come! Over thirty years, our haiku have been influenced by place, life changes, losses, and aging. One of my stories relating to place was about returning to the U.S. after twelve years in Japan and feeling that I would no longer be able to write haiku. My reaction during a calamity proved me wrong.
Michael Welch (Introducer), Maggie Chula, Garry Gay, Penny Harter, Jerry Ball
There I was, watching my house burn and writing a haiku—not a great haiku, or even a decent senryu—but it reassured me that I would continue writing haiku.
Some of the high points of Haiku North America for me were Wanda Cook’s “Some Like It Hot: Erotic Haiku” workshop; a haibun reading by Cor van den Heuvel; the Memorial Reading for haiku poets who have passed away; and “Between a Word and a Brush Stroke,” ahaiga talk by Lidia Rozmus. Lidia is a talented artist and poet and her haiga have been exhibited all over the world.
Maggie and Lidia Rozmus in front of her exhibition
The grand finale of the conference was an expected appearance of Elvis during the banquet held at a restaurant on top of the Space Needle. What an appropriate place for Elvis—on top of the world. That old hound dog, Carlos Colon, had us howling with laughter as he gyrated to the beat of his Elvis senryu. His fans lined up for photos afterwards. Here are a few by Elvis:
not myself tonight
my belt missing
home in Tupelo
feeding the birds
my golden voice
a spot of barbecue sauce
on my white jumpsuit
you feel them even
if Ed Sullivan won’t let you—
swivel of hips
not as long
but the girls still like it
an Elvis cut-out draped