Construction Literary Magazine

Fall 2020

They Say This Is How the Bone Sings; Land of the Free; Home of the Brave

They Say This Is How the Bone Sings; Land of the Free; Home of the Brave
Image via Flickr by Adg
They Say This Is How the Bone Sings

The Nisei told their children, “Don’t make waves. Don’t stand out.
You are different enough anyway.”

            —Report of the Commission on Wartime
            Relocation and Internment of Civilians

There is a place along the border
where children sleep in the dark
like there was once a prairie in Idaho
where we learned what Minidoka means—
a concentration camp under that scar
spangled sky, all our ancestors bound
in razor wire and splintered wood,
the moon’s careless gaze over all of us.

There is a place where the boys are still
wrestling wild boars bare-fisted, where
girls are murdered gathering jonquils
in dry meadows. Listen—the night is filled
with the owls’ grief for tiny bodies
concealed in unimaginable places.

There is a place where the woodsman ate
meat without bones for weeks without
ever wondering where his children were.
Before I die, let every child carve
a flight of flutes from my ribcage,
a symphony revealing every wound
on our fathers’ bodies, a song
proclaiming we will never be dead.

Land of the Free

Because there are more stones now
in the air than when I was a child,

I can’t say which ones are whipping
at my body, which ones I have already

swallowed. A man at fifty knows
he is not the same boy who once threw

his hands up in surrender to the dark
rumble of names hurled at him

from passing cars, from the back seat
of a school bus. A stone is not a weapon

like a name is not a stone, yet it’s hard
to see what a man builds with the stones

he has chosen. Call a stone immigrant,
Call it chink or jap, or whatever names

sit in your stomach, whatever stones
fit into the wall that separates the place

where you live from where you wish
you lived, from where you can never live.

Some nights, a boy can look at the sky
and have an uneasy feeling about the stones

he knows will eventually strike him—
if only he had a name for that feeling.

I’m looking at the moon tonight,
the same moon that hovered overhead

when I was a child. It doesn’t seem so far
away from where I live now.

Home of the Brave

Sometimes, a person falls to one knee
because they are in love, America—

a break in the body’s line, supplication
because the heart wants

what it wants. America, you are
a difficult love, sometimes, you

with your torches and pitchforks,
your revulsion disguised as fealty

to a strip of cloth. My family once lived
at Minidoka, a concentration camp

in Idaho because you couldn’t tell
the difference between a yellow death

wish and a pledge of allegiance, and yet
here I am with one hand on my heart,

one knee in the turf for the lives
that have been damaged, bullet holes

where there were once bodies, chalk
streaked across the asphalt

because a boy is a boy no matter where
he wants to live. Anyone can

stand up, America—just lock your knees,
chin up and eyes to the sky

because when you’re busy watching eagles fly
it’s easy to pretend there are just

worse places than where you live, from sea
to shining sea and all those bodies,

all our different colors, all concussion
and contusion where there was once hope

that freedom will still ring, one day.
My son is too young to know

what it’s like to be in love, America,
too young to have watched his ancestors

remember the prairie where they were once
left to graze, too young to understand

how to wear this American skin that feels so
un-American, sometimes. If only

he didn’t have to understand anything.
If only the land where we make our homes

and the land we sing about so much
could be the same place.