“Tsundoku” By Leo Yamanaka-Leclerc


Poem by Leo Yamanaka-Leclerc

Art by Maggie Lu


My grandmother slept

in an alcove in her living room wall,

early-century façade solidified amidst the war

and the repercussions of Shōwa

on the fragments of the rising sun.


She once lived upstairs,

at a time when her body had been molded

of a more fluid dynamism.


And the old steep stairs

have forced her down

from the wide windowed rooms:

tatami made of rice,

the bamboo shoji

and the futon set low to the floor –

all beside the sliding panel which led

to the low cold roof,

a groaning pastel corrugation

where the laundry hung waiting hours

in an ancient comforting formlessness

in the shadow of the shinkansen tracks.


She made breakfast alone and content

in the single-file kitchen:

brewed a pot of sencha

and felt the aromas in her skin and mind,

stirred cloudy golden miso

while the rice-cooker made the gohan,

and the steam when she unveiled the finished product

painted sinewy whispers against the slanting cabinets

and the walls as old and withered and firm

as she.


And when she shuffled out from the darkness,

delicately holding her feast

with ten wrinkled fingers strong as spider silk,

there remained behind her

a lovely cacophony of smell

which melted up and outwards

to bathe the house in the drug of home.


But it is all empty now:

the alley kitchen cold,

alcove bedroom an empty anomaly in the wall,

the soft breeze lonely without laundry

to kiss so gently beneath the sun,

the low-ceilinged concrete foyer

shoeless and clutter-less,

once a place of ritual welcome

and now a place of ritual cold:

what then of this once-home,

while she lives the rest of her days with others?


This is


           (the art of buying books

           and leaving them unread)

built of food and family,

artificial earthquakes from passing trains,

the smell of okonomiyaki

from the home restaurant next door,

the dim city lights hardly visible

through concrete pillars and a thin twilit mist;

and when it is all empty there is nothing left

           but fragmentation –

so when I hear my grandmother’s voice over the phone,

a crackle across the Pacific,

I trace that old home

as language and the silences between words,

formless images weaving in and out of existence,

memory in its basest form:

synesthetic time,

and the DNA of the past

unbodied and untethered.