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by Diane Westergaard

     Site of Lava Beds National Monument, Lower Klamath
     Basin National Wildlife Refuge and one of the camps where
     citizens of Japanese ancestry were interred in 1942 after
     the outbreak of World War II.

    for Kenbo

Geese land like pontoons
as they did that October
after Pearl Harbor, the month
you and I were born, the month
when aspens flutter like tears.
At an earlier time, the month
Captain Jack was hung.
You left your birthplace
too soon to remember sage
and rabbitbrush that grows
in the cracks of gun-colored lava.

It is my birthday. We check Libra
for planetary influences,
talk of gray hair tangled
with children and spouses.
You tell me where you were born.

Swans float like paper boats
on the lake where Modocs
gathered tules to weave baskets
tight enough for cooking.
Brown signs direct me
to the outcroppings where,
for an entire winter,
Captain Jack withstood the cavalry.
Today, on the shore, pelicans
pile themselves like laundry in the sun.

I walk the lava beds until my eyes
and nose run nonstop from the dust
of resinous plants and the past.
Beside the path bunches of squirrel tail
weave a fluid rose light
from the evening sun.

The cave where Captain Jack's family
huddled that winter stares back,
a dark mouth silenced by a pile of rocks.

Iseri, Nishimoto, Nakano. I sang
their names like the white child's songs
my grandmother taught us
to the croaking rhythm of an oak rocker.

The Iseris never came back
and were called traitors. I join
others from the city to hear
Mozart in the barn they built.
Outside the August light is misty
and dim under the redwoods
and Sequoias they might have planted.
Children pet the fat cow
by the fence. You tell me Iseri
is not a common name among Japanese.

My father, whose childhood friend
died on the Arizona,
once took me to visit the Nakanos.
They had no electricity or children
and gave me the same striped candy
our German neighbor did.

Near the lake I lie on the grass
listening to birds. The smell
of evening rises around me.
Overhead, wind breathes light
popping sounds into the cottonwood.
A black bird chatters in the tree
from which a small object falls.
I get up to look.
Smaller than my thumb, two naked
birds interlocked, head to tail,
lie on the grass. A tiny wing
lifts slightly. I cannot tell
if it is an act of will or the wind.
A pulse swells their thin skin
as though they share a single heart.
My mother often describes
the Indian summer day of my birth,
maples holding onto tired leaves
until the first storm, the cold edge
of the morning fog. Snow geese,
white as nuns, spiraled down
to alkaline shores,
dreaming of treason and safety.

Your mother turned her face
to the barracks wall when the swans
came to the door, following
the thin cries of a black-haired baby
mingled with those of the geese.


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