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Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column

Tribute to Amy Uyemastu: After — Part 7

Here we share a final installment of a long series tribute to the late, great Amy Uyematsu. Since July, following her passing on June 23, I’ve had the honor and pleasure of sharing many voices in celebration of Amy through Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column. And as I continue to work on my own cycle of homage pieces for Amy, it has been wonderful and inspiring to witness poem after poem come in from some of my favorite writers and people in Los Angeles.

It seemed fitting that we give Amy the last word for the final part of this series (in addition to the fact we’re featuring her “...December 7” piece and 7 was her favorite number). Of course, even though Amy has passed from this earthly plane, we will continue to honor her here (through her words and the words of others) throughout the years to come. For now, we’ll leave you with just two selections that her husband Raul and son Chris helped us to choose for this month’s column. Please take great care out there and please enjoy...

—traci kato-kiriyama

* * * * *

Amy Uyematsu was a Sansei poet and teacher from Los Angeles. She had six published collections, including her most recent, That Blue Trickster Time. Her first poetry collection, 30 Miles from J-Town, won the 1992 Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize. Active in Asian American Studies when it first emerged in the late 60s, she was co-editor of the widely-used UCLA anthology, Roots: An Asian American Reader. Her essay, “The Emergence of Yellow Power in America” (1969), has appeared in numerous publications.

Amy was a poetry editor of Greenmakers: Japanese American Gardeners in Southern California (2000). In 2012 Amy was recognized by the Friends of the Little Tokyo Branch Library for her writing contributions to the Japanese American community. Amy taught high school math for LA Unified Schools for 32 years. She has also taught creative writing classes for the Little Tokyo Service Center. She passed away in June 2023. 


                                           —May 2021

My love affair with pine trees and stones
comes from something too ancient
for me to comprehend

I've had the luxury of contemplation,
a gift of time composing
my little odes and haiku

But now I have cancer again
with a pain that makes sitting, walking,
sleeping an uncomfortable task

Precious seconds as I recalculate
new ways to put on my clothes,
even cough or laugh

I take comfort in the afternoon's sky
a May blue that's filled with these
wind-driven clouds

A bit more courage to remember
the world keeps on calling
me closed than ever

It is better to know or not know?
If a stroke or heart attack, maybe no warning at all.
If a risky operation, then maybe but no guarantee.

I just found there's no cure.
Maybe months or if I'm lucky, years.
But isn't that true for everyone?

I know there are no pills or treatments.
No prayers or secret escape hatch.
I take comfort in one more day.

to leave but not alone

my heart
   keeps    growing

   your hearts
       meeting mine

What is     Breaking

and all
   that can't be     broken

   Our hearts
       deepen     as one

*This poem is copyrighted by Amy Uyematsu and first published in Bamboo Ridge: Journal of Hawai‘i Literature and Arts in 2023.



            All persons of Japanese ancestry, both alien and nonalien, will
            be evacuated from the above designated area by 12:00 noon.

—Executive Order 9066, Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1942

december 7 always brings christmas early
in neat white packages
red circles perfectly centered
one to a side

mama was taken away in a long railed box
blinds pulled taut to hold in her shame

they delivered her to a box in santa anita
walls lined with tissue paper hay
layered over manure and the bloody vomit
that gushes from caged animals

they confined her to a tarbacked box
in that flattened arizona desert
and in aerial photographs
the human cartons arranged row by row
framed by impeccably straight cornered wire borders
were picture perfect

they put me in an airless box
every december 7
when the history lesson was me

they gave me to babies
who were just learning the habits
of their fathers

forty years later the presents arrive
in one continuing commemoration
each precisely wrapped in black and white newsprint
houston st. louis new york
davis boston west philadelphia
in detroit the autoworker at the bar
didn’t need to know the skull he smashed
belonged to vincent chin a name that didn’t match 

the evacuation of bodies resumes
judged by the same eyes that watched mama’s train 

*This poem was copyrighted by Amy Uyematsu and originally published in From 30 Miles From J-Town by Story Line Press in 1992.


© 1992, 2023 Amy Uyematsu

Amy Uyematsu cancer poetry poets

About this series

Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column is a space for the Nikkei community to share stories through diverse writings on culture, history, and personal experience. The column will feature a wide variety of poetic form and subject matter with themes that include history, roots, identity; history—past into the present; food as ritual, celebration, and legacy; ritual and assumptions of tradition; place, location, and community; and love.

We’ve invited author, performer, and poet traci kato-kiriyama to curate this monthly poetry column, where we will publish one to two poets on the third Thursday of each month—from senior or young writers new to poetry, to published authors from around the country. We hope to uncover a web of voices linked through myriad differences and connected experience.

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