Sunday, November 20, 2011

Opening Ceremony

State House, Salem Oregon
On June 14 (Flag Day), I was invited by Representative Tomei of Milwaukie Oregon to read a poem at the Opening Ceremony for the Oregon State House of Representatives. I was delighted and a bit daunted by this request, but the clerk gave me very detailed instructions.

1. You have a two-minute time limit.

2. The two minutes is solely for your reading; it's not an opportunity to address the Members other than a simple 'thank you' or 'thank you for having me today.'

3. Your poem must meet the guidelines criteria and it is not for purposes of lobbying the Members for any political stance or issue.

4. The convening time is fluid, but I suggest you arrive at 10:00 a.m.

I arrived early and was shown to my reserved parking place. Climbing the steps to the multi-doored entryway made me feel like an insignificant citizen entering the cavernous Chamber of the Law. Everyone, however, welcomed me an an honored guest. Here's the poem I read from my newest book What Remains: Japanese Americans in Internment Camps with quilt artist Cathy Erickson.

WHAT REMAINS

They loaded us onto trucks bound for the camps
            took our homes, our possessions, our land
just because we were Japanese – Japanese Americans.

Two suitcases were all we were allowed for clothes
photos, keepsakes ­­– twenty years of our lives in America.
Your grandfather was taken right off his fishing boat.
I was cooking the evening meal when they came.
Your mother sat at the kitchen table studying for a test.

That night I cut strips of cloth from garments
I had to leave behind. And from them I sewed this quilt.
Each stitch, a remembrance ­­­– each square, rectangle a tribute
to nature’s bounty in the desolation of Heart Mountain.

I stitched in the comfort of kasuri,
the smell of wood smoke on rain-black nights,
of days when rain fell soft and even as my child’s breath.
I stitched in triangles of flowers from my wedding kimono.
And as I quilted, I whispered their names:  kiku, hagi, kiky├┤
chrysanthemum, bush clover, Chinese bell flower.

How cheerful those curtains of plumeria, hibiscus that hung
in our bedroom, their perfume a dream of Hawaii. I sewed in
beauty and vertical rays of yellow, the sun that shone through
the barbed wire and the curtainless windows of our barracks.

The orange poppies were last, fashioned from your mother’s
hair ribbons. I planted them as an afterthought –
question marks blooming with hope.





In Seattle with Elvis

Elvis (aka Carlos Colon) with one of his admirers
One of the highlights of this summer was attending the Haiku North America conference in Seattle from August 3-7. The Organizing Committee: Michael Dylan Welch, Tanya McDonald, Dejah Leger, and Angela Terry along with a long list of volunteers put on a memorable weekend. Haiku North America provides not only an opportunity to talk about haiku and related forms, but to reunite with old friends and learn about their new projects through readings, presentations, and panel discussions. Previous conferences have been held in Boston, San Francisco, Toronto, New York, Chicago. Portland, Ottawa, Port Townsend, and Winston-Salem. I've attended nearly all of them.

This year's theme was "Fifty Years of Haiku." To commemorate this gathering, I chaired a panel entitled "Who Wrote That? How My Haiku Has Changed Over Three Decades," inviting three haiku luminaries and longtime friends to be panelists: Jerry Ball, Garry Gay, and Penny Harter.

Michael Welch (Introducer), Maggie Chula, Garry Gay, Penny Harter, Jerry Ball
Our stories of following the haiku path were both hilarious and poignant. We began our discussion on a light note by reading our first haiku, thus demonstrating how far we've come! Over thirty years, our haiku have been influenced by place, life changes, losses, and aging. One of my stories relating to place was about returning to the U.S. after twelve years in Japan and feeling that I would no longer be able to write haiku. My reaction during a calamity proved me wrong.

sitting outside
watching my house burn—
mosquito bites my leg

There I was, watching my house burn and writing a haiku—not a great haiku, or even a decent senryu—but it reassured me that I would continue writing haiku.

Some of the high points of Haiku North America for me were Wanda Cook's "Some Like It Hot: Erotic Haiku" workshop; a haibun reading by Cor van den Heuvel; the Memorial Reading for haiku poets who have passed away; and "Between a Word and a Brush Stroke," a haiga talk by Lidia Rozmus. Lidia is a talented artist and poet and her haiga have been exhibited all over the world.

Maggie and Lidia Rozmus in front of her exhibition

The grand finale of the conference was an expected appearance of Elvis during the banquet held at a  restaurant on top of the Space Needle. What an appropriate place for Elvis—on top of the world. That old hound dog, Carlos Colon, had us howling with laughter as he gyrated to the beat of his Elvis senryu. His fans lined up for photos afterwards. Here are a few by Elvis:

not myself tonight
my belt missing
a rhinestone


home in Tupelo
feeding the birds
my golden voice


Labor Day
a spot of barbecue sauce
on my white jumpsuit


you feel them even 
if Ed Sullivan won't let you— 
swivel of hips


not as long
but the girls still like it
army haircut



bachelorette party
an Elvis cut-out draped
with lingerie