"He, She, and the Linoleum Floor:" A Poem by Allegra Long '17

 

 

Authors Note:

For this poem, I was inspired by a painting called “Remember Pearl Harbor,” by Roger Shimomura. The painting depicts a diagonal split between a yellow and black colored background, with an old white woman on the bottom half, looking up at a Japanese soldier flying a plane. The soldier is seen to be dropping a bomb on the older white woman, while he is depicted in a very stereotypical way, with slanted eyes and big teeth. This painting made me think about the two of the many sides of the home front before, during, and after the Japanese Internment. I created an unnamed young boy of Japanese descent and an unnamed Caucasian young girl, and placed them in different situations throughout the war years and after. I found that as I wrote more and more, I became more attached to these characters, and even began to place myself in their shoes in these situations, to try and feel what they might have felt. Even though I could never feel just as the boy or girl, or others in their situations during that time, while writing, I was glad to obtain a small idea.

He was 11 when his mother told him that Pearl Harbor had been bombed.

He remembers the tense shoulders of his father;

Seated in front of the radio;

Sounds of war and destruction;

Flooding his ears;

Just like the USS Arizona.

His mother;

eyebrows furrowed and lips pursed;

and he noticed that her onyx hair was beginning to turn grey.

 

She was 10 when her mother told her not to sit with Sarah anymore.

She thought it was because Sarah had onyx hair;

And that was different, against her own blonde locks.

She got along with Sarah well;

But she did what she was told.

When she took her lunch into the classroom;

She almost sat there;

But the words of her mother echoed;

Deep in her head;

And she sat with Emily;

And didn’t look at Sarah for the rest of the year.

 

He was 13 when a few white boys from his class followed him home;

He didn’t want any trouble;

It was only 30 yards until the turn onto his street;

It was only 5 yards until they caught up to him;

It was only one swift yell that gave him any warning;

“Hey Jap!”

He turned around;

Hoping it was better than running;

And was met with a punch, two punches.

Lights flickering and heavy breathing;

He could feel the white fists painting on his abdomen;

A story of black and blue.

When he staggered home;

His mother pretended not to notice;

Just like he pretended not to notice her tears;

Dripping down her sagging cheeks;

When she thought he couldn’t hear her.

 

She was 12 when Sarah and her family left town;

She hadn’t spoken to Sarah for years;

And she felt that she should say something;

But her lips stayed shut.

As Sarah refused to meet any of her classmate’s eyes;

And her mother explained to the teacher why Sarah would be missing the rest of the school year.

Her lips stayed shut when Jenny whispered to Todd;

“Probably something about Pearl Harbor,”

And her eyes met the cold, linoleum floor;

Now an old friend.

 

He was still 13 when they left for the camps;

Welcomed with barbed wire and harsh eyes of the white men that guarded him;

He knew they weren’t protecting him from something.

He didn’t talk with the other Japanese people very often;

He didn’t think it would be needed if they were going to leave soon;

But days turned to months;

And months turned to years;

And his hope waned.

After 2 years, it was over;

He returned to his city;

A broken, 15-year-old boy who didn’t feel as if he belonged in his hometown;

A missing puzzle piece found;

That didn’t quite fit.

 

She was 14 when she saw the Japanese boy being denied service at the diner;

The manager having come out when one of the waitresses complained of serving a “spy”;

As the large man with the balding head let his shoulders seize up;

The man let the television speak for him as he reprimanded the boy;

For the color of his skin.

His eyes drifting towards the floor;

Her own old, linoleum friend becoming his.

And she kept staring at him;

But only she kept her eyes on the shadows in his cheeks;

His teeth biting his lip;

As if he was holding his own thoughts hostage.

She knew about holding thoughts hostage.

For when things are let go or forced out;

They can never truly return to exactly what they were.

She forgot what she was doing;

Until his eyes moved to meet hers;

But hers had met the floor;

Once more.