Poetry Suite by Ken Yoshikawa

Editor Sam Preminger, Poetry, November 19th, 2018

"There is an order you must understand before you can make language dance."


Poetry by Ken Yoshikawa

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A Ghost Tale of Two Cities


Nagai means ‘long’

like a flight from here to Tokyo,

like the oooooooooooooooooooohs of a ghost.

Nagaiki means ‘long life’.

Naga-ame means ‘long spell of rain’,

which to us may as well be home.

The ‘i’ (nagai) is the dictionary form of the unconjugated adjective.


Hiroi means ‘wide’,

like a turtle shell;

like the audience of a well made film;

Hiroba means ‘plaza’.

Hirobakyoufushou means ‘agoraphobia’.

It’s a wild world indeed.

Dear, Hollywood, I wonder if you know this.

I wonder, what with cowboys drawing colts,

knights slaying no-goods, spies harboring secrets,

or pirates spilling pearls,

when they’re rolling across the floor –

I seem to think you do.

So, if nagasode means ‘long-sleeve’ then hirosode means…?

I think you’re catching on:

a place to keep your aces.

So you know Nagasaki means ‘long cape’

like a bitty peninsula. Right?

And Hiroshima means ‘wide island’,

it speaks much for itself.

There is an order you must understand before you can make language dance.

But that doesn’t have to matter, right?

We can say Nagasaki means ‘long ago’, means ‘half-life’, means ‘forgotten’, means ‘rad’ means

‘long point’ means ‘stick and roast it’.

I mean I think you know what it means to stretch anything until the meaning changes.

Hiroshima really means ‘follow the light’ means ‘pretty skies’ means ‘mushroom spaghetti all

over your pants’ means ‘relieve your shadow of its body’,

but that’s just between you and me, in this space.

It’s a wild world, because there’s order,

because more than words actually tear when they are pulled the wrong way.

When you give a child a hero, and then you take it away and then you change it.

Worlds break in ways that make not a single sound.

You seem to put Scars where they don’t much belong.

It’s OK. We can carry the weight, but the joke is still on you.

Nagasaki means ‘magic man’,

but Hiroshima still means ‘a broken heart’

so do your magic, then.

Take a mold of our face

and throw it away.

Take a scalpel,

strap it to a white curse

I mean a white cursor –

Whip it in a bending confuser bro cam –

I mean a rendering computer program –

Photoshop your way through the mouse maze

getting lost for cheese in the complex

of raze down, erase & spray paint.

Color my house white, please.

Color my house white, please.

Pick the locks with CG.

Fix the bones in our face, please.


Wait let us try.

Hiroshima means

wide eyes and a pika pika houdai

a “waaaaaaa are, sore, kawaiina, kakoiida”.


Nagasaki no longer means

long eyes,


long nose.

Hiroshima: not

wide nose, 


wide eyes.

Let me introduce you

to the beautiful ghosts

of two deleted cities:




Where haunted of defeat by military superiority,

that the white victors

are not just stronger

than us

       more wealthy

       and intelligent

       more beautiful

than us,

they’re actually just better

than us.

The best way to reinforce supremacy

is to have our enemies defeat themselves

and forget why they’re doing it.


So, Scarlett Johansson,

you are exactly the Japanese woman

Japan has been waiting to become.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

It has been too long. The work, too long.

We can actually be you now.





the language.

Easy fix.

They will take your fancy images, remove your voice, make you silent, and then put Japanese

words, Japanese souls, Japanese ghosts back into the shell they built to get over our

annihilated lessons in humility.


But what about me?

Am I the now unaccepted byproduct

of a loser’s complex in a global world,

with wide eyes & long nose,

Japanese words and US passport?

Nagasaki could mean ‘long precedent’

but, hey, I can stretch anything to change its meaning.

Nagasaki means ‘long game’.

Means we’re coming back for what is ours.

Means you are running out of excuses Hollywood.

Hiroshima means the bombshell bombed this one,

Means cheap thrills have high costs,

Means sex sells – tried to sell –

Means you couldn’t sell our childhood dreams back to us

because you can’t take for keeps that which was never yours.

I mean, you just seem to break what you do not understand.

The magic man in dabble land will wreck himself the most.

Remember now?

I am become death, the destroyer of worlds?

Not I. No Hollywood, I thought you understood.

I am the Little Boy, coming home,

split, hungry for a hard boiled egg in the fallout.

You are the ghost

in the shell of a very Fat Man,




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To My Father’s Neckties


  1. 結び方 (Musubikata):


the way to tie a father to his son.

These roadways of inheritance,


dusty pulse keepers

nobly slept

in a mahogany cabinet

at my grandparents’ home.

They are London,


Milan, and Grand Rapids.

They are Paris and Nagoya,

Amsterdam and home.

Multichromatic elephants

and polka dots.

Take 20,


he said,

with gently

demanding generosity.

Maybe, each time

I tie one

for an interview


for a wedding,

I’ll learn

to tie the clouds


dress fancy the Pacific,


his mirror

to my mirror.


  1. かっこいい (Kakkoii):


Wrap it twice

around the knot,

so you remember.


Keep the front

just long enough,

so you remember.


Master that dimple,

just below the knot,

so you remember.






Just like that.

Hai. Iiyo


  1. 正しい (Tadashii):


I stuffed


18 ties

into a plastic bag.


what the hell

am I gonna do

with 18 ties?

Can they tie the years I didn’t see him

to the moment

I looked him in the eyes

to thank him?

He gave me shoes,

a badass coat,

bought me a navy blue suit.

When he saw

the condition which I’d subjected the ties to,

I realized

I didn’t really want the ties,

but rather

the instruction

for how to take care of them.

Please, Dad,

show me a way

to not stuff my life

into a plastic bag.

Show me

how to dress so sharp

it cuts a wormhole to the sun.

Is this the right way?

Are these ties

your wormhole

to me?


  1. 何をしましょう? (Nani wo shimashyou?)


He told me,

there has to be distance

between two people

for there to be

a conversation.

That if you ask someone


what they want

in Japanese,

it ends up being

rude and invasive.

I’m so used

to being the other end

of your tie

that now that we’re


looking through the very same mirror

I’m living

on the black stripes


on your thin end,

just that much closer,

just for today.

I contradict

every time I ground your memory

like a fingernail.

I will never be you, Dad.


I’m fixing my collar, Dad.

I remember everything,



I did it.


I did it.

Dad, I am just like you.


  1. 完璧 (Kanpeki):


I’ve decided,

when I leave,

I’ll tie each one

to the wings

of the airplane,

and watch them flutter

from the window seat.

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Give Fate the Ferry


I like to lick my plate, pick all the grains

like souls all lost and needing saving here

inside my belly. Go, give fate the ferry,

face first and merry. Slake thirst. Savor same

as sabertooth untamed and dirty maned.

Beware, leftovers, here I raid you down

beyond the morsel to the clay beneath.

Who needs a damn dishwasher when there’s me?

So is it poorest table manners or

attentive gratitude for little things

that gets me gobbling like an animal?


My grandmother at ocean’s farthest reach

told me, 米一個残さず

(kome ikko nokosazu / zembu otabenasai)

全部お食べなさい。Please eat,

not leaving, but a single grain of rice.

Her whispers told of paddy farmers’ toil,

those who picked, piece by piece, each precious grain

and cleaned them, portioned, packed them, hauled and drove

with sweaty brows, big smiles, and bigger hearts.

The world incorporated’s come to steel:

the gentle industry of hands is now

all mechanized with volts and switches. Gone

may be the days, but not the memory.


She ran as fire rained around her, prayed

inside her six year heart to not be prey

to death and char. O how her neck hairs know

that doom sure likes to whistle like a faceless

cowboy: shotgun-shouldered, shameless, showering

its payback payload packed all full of fear.

Yes, innocence so burns like sliding doors

and wafts up smoke upon an engine’s roar.

We have a phrase: 鬼に金棒。(Oni ni kanabou)

The Ogre first, and then his iron club.

B-29s are terrifying, but

the iron club was hunger, malnutrition.

I like to think we were her hunger pains,

that grueling urge to grit and persevere:

please keep a hold, Obachan 頑張れ ,

(Ganbare / ikitekudasai!)

生きてください! Please live, and eat

what all you can, not wasting but a single

grain of rice. I swear that I’ll believe

you wrapped your centimeters there inside

a wooden box and to a turtle’s trust

bequeathed it to the bottom of the sea,

to be invested in an ancient shrine;

your height was safely hidden in the waves.

Yet come when we your family took shape

the turtle thus returned the tide to us.

Today her head can’t pass my chin at all,

but cousin Kousuke stands o’er six feet tall.


With curly salt and pepper hair, and keen

ol’ eyes and O that laugh and smile, she calls

for dinner time. Gohandesuyo!

See what a triumph every meal is.

Not like a buzzard with a muzzle feed.

Not like a tollbooth for a canteen bridge.

I like to lick my plate and celebrate:

each bit a disco light inside my mouth

each bowl a treasure trove of ancestry.


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Header image courtesy of Mojo Wang. To view his artist feature, go here.

Ken Yoshikawa is a shin-issei (new-wave first-gen) half-Japanese actor and spoken word poet from Portland, OR. He graduated from Reed College with a B.A. in Theatre Arts. He is so grateful for his family and his friends for their love and support. He also has work published in Hapa Mag and floatOn’s Letters from the Void. You can find him on IG at @yoshakeawaken and @backflip.jupiter


Photo courtesy of Vi Son Trinh


Sam Preminger

Sam Preminger is a Portland-based poet. Their work has appeared throughout various publications and they hold an MFA from Pacific University.