i wore your death like a goose wears its feathers
embedded and seeking to be plucked
the plumeria tucked behind my ear dripped milk down my neck
and you were with me even then with the sun casting light
over brown skin, illuminating it to pale and forcing
dark shadows where i faced away from you
i wore your dress like a man wears his skin
comfortably at rest, then writhing for release
the red and white lace eyelets peered into my nakedness
how could i ll a place made for someone else someone
more lovely and loved than my empty bag of bones
i rolled you around in my mouth— a marble
pushing the question of tragedy with my tongue
careful not to swallow
in the pictures, we are wearing you
with plumerias tucked into bruised black hair
sun painting us colors we are not
and the man behind the camera cries
for a girl who may have looked much like us.
September 1, 2003—I had always thought politics was a matter of manners, not ethics. So I was not struck by the indifference I felt that autumn of 1971 when I saw Hirohito waving to a crowd of Japanese school children in front of the Louvre. L had canceled our lunch plans. And I had already skipped my philosophy course to meet her across the city. The weather was warm for the season, the leaves pristine in their final moments. I remember the scene as if from a dream. The miniature Japanese flags the children waved, their strong teeth bared to the wind, ceaselessly smiling. Where did they come from? The children, that is. Where were their parents? A woman dressed in all black lunged forward from the crowd screaming, “Hirohito, where is my father?” in Korean. That startled me. The shape of those words unfurling from her lips, vibrating through the air until they reached my ears, was disconcerting. I wanted to see her face. With her back still turned to me, two French military police caught her in the air and dragged her away. I analyzed her stature, height, age, those physical attributes that tend to define a person, and concluded that she could have been my mother. Hirohito continued waving at the school children. The school children continued waving their flags. I remember little else of this day. The sunlight filtering through the yellow green leaves of magnolia trees. The smell of chestnuts on the nearby street. Pale blue of the sky.
Altar was first published in O:JA&L, written in memory of my adoptive grandparents’ niece, Lisa, who was killed in a drunk driving accident. She was in her early twenties and died on her father’s birthday. Some pains can’t be held by words. When I was about 6 years old, Lisa’s mother, Amy, was having a very difficult time looking at her clothes, especially the ones she wore as a child. She called my grandmother and then shipped them off from Hawai’i to LA. Upon arrival, my grandmother dressed us in her mumus—my sister in a blue and white one, myself in a red and white one. My grandfather pulled plumerias off the trees in his yard and tucked them into our hair. My uncle photographed us in the orchid garden, dressed in Lisa’s clothes, adorned in flowers. Even if I could not understand Lisa’s passing, I understood deeply how loved she was. This poem is born from this memory.
When deciding what I wanted to send out, I looked back at some of my favorite poems. I acknowledge, maybe I write too much about grief, but I am always seeking to memorialize someone in my life—ensure they are still living through writing. At the time, I was thinking of my Auntie Amy, now the last in her direct family still living—and I offer up memory as a gift at the altar.
Sloan Asakura is a poet and memoirist from Los Angeles. They are a ’22 Periplus fellow and editor for Mawth. Their works have been previously published in magazines such as Rigorous, Rogue Agent, The Mantle, The Lantern Review, Zone 3, and Joyland. In their free time, they can be found talking to trees and neighborhood cats.
Jessica Lipton is a writer and amateur filmmaker based in Los Angeles. Her work is informed by landscape, filmic space, and dreams.