Friday Jun 21

MalhotraMiaAyumi PhotobyMarkMalhotra Mia Ayumi Malhotra  is the author of Isako Isako (forthcoming 2019), winner of the 2017 Alice James Award. She received her MFA from the University of Washington and is a Kundiman and VONA/Voices Fellow. She currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read more at:

from Mothersalt: A Lyric

34 weeks, 2 days

A bright red thread appears to run through my days, one I have not seen before. Did you know that the halves of our lives can be fit back together? That a jagged edge, once formed, can be smoothed by the light touch of memory, its return? Trace it back, this time garlanded with marigolds. Heavy golden heads, bright eyes that open endlessly into this new day. Sometimes even places from which you have fled, ones you could you not find your way back to if you wanted—how to trace it through impossible space, memory, blinding sun—sometimes a hand appears, heavy with gold, beckoning the way through. Our lives, so lovingly sutured. As if I have stepped through time, beheld the stitching of days that constitutes a life. One face leads to the next, and I have seen them all. Perhaps it’s the cracks that make us whole again.

34 weeks, 3 days

Child, forgive me, for I have not seen. Until now, that is. Those heavy-lidded eyes, smeared with gold. The gaze that sees and sees. In whose image I have been made—and you. If you were to lift a finger, I would know it, for I am your body’s awareness. When you stir, it is I who takes notice. Each twitch of your folded limbs sends sensation shivering through me, and so I move through the day, a patient galaxy, herald to the newness that is to come. Forgive me for not attending earlier to this life, a revelation. A revolution, wheeling through space. I release you, little cosmos, shuddering so strongly that I feel as though I’ve been gripped by a force outside of myself. Speak, little one. I’m listening. The red thread of your life, stitched through my days.

35 weeks, 3 days

I’m moon-grown. How I glow. This lunar light.

36 weeks

The midwife slides the wand across my lower abdomen, and your face comes into focus. Head-down, she says. Baby’s looking right at us. A blur of white on black, echoes from some eerie otherworld. The image swerves, returns. Nose. Palate. Eye sockets.

My body is not a machine. My body is a miracle, a field of gestating light. Pulse and gravity, radiant with purpose.

They talk about pain. They use words like “pain stimulus” and “surge.” They say things like “counter-pressure” and “mind-body connection.” But what does any of it mean, in the end? In the end, they say, the body goes to a place where the mind cannot follow. Speaking becomes difficult, they say. How to prepare? I ask. “Deep breathing,” they say.

If my body is a field of radiant light, when the time comes, it will contract to a pinprick of light. I will shatter and glow.

Portrait of Isako in Wartime

Ohio, and I imagine her
walking the train line,
tracks narrowed in the distance.
Through her soles,
the platform’s slats. She feels
their unevenness
in the flats of her feet. Noon-
day heat and the wool
of her jacket’s itchy.
She’s got a bob, it’s 1943
and the war’s on. No one
in the station looks
like her, but everyone’s
looking at her.
No explanation but the one
in government-issued print.
National Student Relocation
Council. Early Release.
The sentry in his watch-
tower, barbed-wire fence
and Stars and Stripes flapping
in the wind. From across
the tracks, a man (here,
imagination does the work
history’s lost) approaches, finger
bared, a blunt accusation.
Aren’t you a Jap? The long
explanation—why she’s out,
whose side she’s on.
The nations we pledge
at odds, leaving us to make
up the difference.
This story’s old, the woman
—dead, papers boxed
in a back closet. I’ve seen them.
Early Release.
The government-issued ID number.

In camp, it’s said, they cut
gardens into Arkansas desert,
fixed rocks into the flat face
of the earth and irrigated
bean rows to feed their families.
Healthy vines appeared
where none should have
grown; tiny buds coaxed
from the earth, tendrils
that spooled runners
through dust.
When the order came
to pack up and return
home, the authorities found
every curtain drawn
shut. Every barrack
floor swept clean.

(with inscriptions from a painting by Ned Broderick)

begins with a blast, the body filled with foreign fragments
shred bone and nerve tissue / frontal cranial eminence missing
    with corresponding cerebral tissue (6 cm) / 63% Coalition fatalities
caused by commercially-sourced explosives / cluster bombs, clothes soaked
in sticky napalm / soda cans wired into daisy chains
    shrapnel in left temporal area lodged in frontal lobe

blasted desert / that “ping-ping-ping” / palms / left arm mostly torn off
massive flesh wound to left side of neck / soldiers held together
    by shoelaces and body armor / the Screaming Eagles / die motherfuckers
die / the saw’s thin whine / complete exoneration of left occipital orbit / sternum
split / surgeon up to his elbows / RT external border above clavicle
    sand fleas where toes were / why do my feet feel so cold / dressings soaked

covered with sand / kill me / kill me now / in the hospital,
the body packed back in / tell me / sewn shut sent out
    where it returns to being / body / tube-stuck pharynx rubbed raw
in the mind / head injury struck by tank / a pattern that sets and stays / something
about them shooting at you / fragments from hostile device
    noted in chest cavity / you shooting at them / puts the nerve endings

outside the body / puncture wound from 50 cal. shell entering left trapezius
like mad dogs about to die / trained to hit the gas
    if someone approaches the vehicle / stop! stop right there! / clouds of chlorine
woman with a white flag in her hand / lodged into left anterior
frontal lobe / boy the woman steps / the shot / scream
    crunch tires split / skull / surrounding tissue destroyed

convoy strung across the berm / down / tire treads / the pattern set
glistening, red-streaked trail / tell me / white
    of flag, red of woman / truth that spreads / a dark stain
into asphalt / tell me I’m gonna be whole again / pattern bit into skin / rubber teeth
                      that fix and will not let go / we came in droves / shiny orbs
    enemies they can’t see / neat o of the muzzles / mad dogs
about to die / white teeth blackened skin / chewing mouthparts / dragonskin
can’t close your eyes / can’t close your ears
       tell me / die /

photo credit: Mark Malhotra