The Rolling Waves of Home

Long Beach, Washington, June 2012

This is the moment on the sand
     when I see what it is that lies here at my feet
          tangled in the driftwood
     flecked with feathers
          draped with seaweed

Yellow chunks of insulation
     from soba shops and sake stores
          from houses
               upon houses

Shoyu pooled brown in bottles
     mouthwash and toothbrushes
          a television
     from kitchens and living rooms
          from bathrooms and bedrooms

I walk the snaking strandline
     over sandals
          and the soles of rubber boots

I know now each thing has its meaning

This is not trash

Nobody threw these things away

What show was Ojii-chan watching
     that sunny Friday afternoon
          when the alert came on?

What dish was Obaa-chan making
     when the floor bucked and swayed
          when the contents of her cupboards
     fell down upon her
          the shouts
     of neighbors ringing through the streets?

Where could they have run
     as sirens blared
          and the ocean roared behind them
     as she lost her sandal on the stairs?

That night here seven thousand miles from home
     I watched my childhood washed away
          in blackened surf
               in wooden waves

I stand here now and know
     I can never go home again

But borne on blackened surf
     on wooden waves
          home has come to me.

(UPDATE: You can now read this poem in Japanese as well.)

Grebe in the Surf

Brown foam nearly covered the bird
washed up during the storm. Out here
walking the dogs in that light that hangs
in the air between squalls, we’d left
our field guides on the table at home.
A grebe, perhaps, surf had battered
its black and white feathers ragged.
One red eye followed us as we stood over it
and asked each other what to do
as the dogs whined and strained
at the ends of their leashes beside us.

I want to say we took it in our hands,
washed the sand from its wounded wing,
carried it in my coat to our rented cabin,
dried its feathers by a fire, and watched it heal,
paddling back and forth in the bear-claw tub.
I want to tell you it grew strong from herring
we bought for it from the market up the street.

But I thought of the landlord, the barking dogs,
the smell of an injured wild animal –
and really, what could we do for a broken bird
in just the days we had left here at the beach?
Let’s go, I said, and we walked on.
Hours later, we passed that place again.
The tide was out and the bird was gone.