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Things Left Unsaid: Hisaye Yamamoto’s Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories

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Hisaye’s stories
are dense little time capsules
full of things unsaid.

To be Japanese-
American in the West
was to be blameless

While being labeled
a traitor. Yamamoto
doesn’t dwell on it.

Instead she dives into
the arid desert camps, finds life,
gossip, and legends

She moves slow. Her prose
sparse, restrained, straining to break
free. So much hidden.

She writes and collects
rejection slips under the
name Napoleon

Housewife, she would blush.
“Reading was a compulsion…”
“I was hooked for life.”

Just nineteen stories
written in forty-three years,
every other year.

Gulps of lost Japan
mochisuki, cherry blossoms,
nails in persimmon.

Here is where she shines:
as if to tell the U.S.,
there’s beauty there too.

A family destroys
every Japanese item
to be patriots.

Mother to daughter:
promise never to marry.
I promise, she lies.

Man to pregnant wife:
I am through with gambling
until tomorrow

A girl to herself
never take pennies from a
man with just one leg.

Man to angry man:
My boy die in the war too.
Verdad, yes, verdad.

Hisaye’s brother
killed in Italy, nineteen.
She writes about him

We want to cry, says the aunt,
bring his body home.

You say your stories,
“None of them is any good.”
You cover so much.

Mother to daughter:
pack all your meaning into
a haiku. Leave space.

Katrina Goldsaito

Review by

Katrina Goldsaito translates her great grandmother's haikus with her father, the self-proclaimed haiku pundit. National Geographic, NPR, The Christian Science Monitor, The Japan Times, and now Uncovered Classics have all been fooled into publishing Katrina's work. Now, she writes about death, everyday grief, and unexpected mourning, and gladly takes instructions on how to tweet @inlovethere. Her first children's book, The Sound of Silence, is forthcoming from Little, Brown and Company. Also, unicorns.

Grace Danico

Illustration by

Grace Danico is an illustrator, designer, and archivist based in Los Angeles, CA. Her work is a playful intersection of bold lines, imaginary characters, bright colors and letter inspired by food, travel, plants, music and home life.

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