Manzanar

Manzanar


March ended then, 1942
four months since Pearl Harbor
exploded strychnine across the western shore
poisoning minds frantic with suspicion

all eyes turned to question loyalty
even the loyalty of those who had known no other home
as if yellow skin had somehow been stretched over the bodies of monsters
suddenly it was as though we were no longer neighbors
or had ever shared pews on Sunday morning

In the silence of self-evident truths which followed
laughed the hot dry mockery of liberty
defenseless waiting, May 1943
imprisonment first by black steel letters
lining the white paper

forbidding school to our children
the "dumb Japs" icons of enemy spies
our black hair straight black eyes
yellow enemy skin; reflected clear from their shiny white faces

we obeyed their ten o'clock curfew
stayed from their grocery stores, movie theaters
but it was not enough, confined to communities and homes
not enough, condemnation to an invisible existence
evacuation orders came soon after

four days notice from the American Gestapo
"quarantine the yellow peril
into forgotten sections of isolated land"
stunned fingers flowed in bewildered motions
too loyal to relinquish rights, too loyal to refuse

we packed what could be carried
numbers assigned, stamped on luggage, bodies
stamped out identity. August 1942. Executive Order 9066.
110,000.

White scavengers wandered our bedrooms and lawns
30 silver token coins, easing guilt
bought our priceless possessions; land, cars, furniture, homes
strangers walked away with memories
robbed us of all but family and left huddling together in trains

rattling across the night whispers and rumors of destinations unknown
behind us abandoned homes and businesses plundered
stolen lives easing anxieties, we disappeared
vanishing nameless bodies mass incarceration to Manzanar
hastily erected shanty town

prison of tar paper and barbed-wire
where criminals the searchlights couldn't keep
the desert would. November, 1944
winds void of remorse would send grains of sand

sweeping angrily across the camp
engulfing every inch of exposed skin
like tiny shards of glass lashing into our eyes
as though it were not enough
that by our existence we had betrayed our country

but now we had also, somehow, wronged the desert
and found great pleasure
executing slow revenge
upon the defenseless exiles;
American captives inside the chain link cage


by Lindsay Nelson


Contributors retain all rights to their work. ©1996 Kaleidoscope. Write Place. Volume 7.


URL: http://leo.stcloud.msus.edu/kaleidoscope/manz.html


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