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✧ Winner of the 2021 Gearhart Poetry Contest ✧

Selected by Rosebud Ben-Oni

「Obake Obachan」

Diane Yayoe Suzuki disappeared on July 6, 1985.

The porch light flickers for thirty-six years. Somewhere

a hen claws the dirt, thin legs scrambling to leave a trace. Maybe another girl

dances alone in her room. Maybe we curl back our tongues to mimic the red

glow beneath the smoke crumbling into a bowl of ash. Call this a prayer,

call it a daily grief because we’ve forgotten how to shape the name

with our tongues—can only name the man who swallowed your light.

So name him. Dew on the sand. Rain on a cloudless day bending every ray of light.

Our faces turned away from the sky. Somewhere, a fox celebrates a false marriage where

he’ll crawl back into that murky darkness. A tattered pinion: useless. Another name

without a body. Another body on the side of the road. Another small girl—

maybe you—with black hair, small ears, piercings. This time. Another unheard prayer.

Remember how we would hide inside our homes if the sun burned red

and the sun burned red every evening, soaking the seam of the sky with blood

or something like blood. Even now we ignite the backyard with fluorescent light,

sear our eyes with smoke to chase a memory and choke down a shared prayer.

The salted fish wrapped in taro leaves, the smoked flesh of pigs—a meal where

we can pick the bones clean, bones we can hold in our hands, bones we can bury. Your

pictures pasted in every window, every mouth echoing have you seen Diane?

A chorus of mouths, of hands, of sockets gaping wide in search of your name

and the body that carried it. The unnamed body that carried you away. The tiles stained red

with his first hunger. How my mother would quietly call me Rose. Hide me in the girl’s

bathroom, too afraid to send me alone but unsure why. How I still scramble for the light

switch, clawing the bathroom walls for that plastic reassurance. Wear

the remnants of insects and wax smeared across my lips—call this a private prayer.

Look at the banyan tree. How it hangs off the sky like a prayer,

tied to its host till what it clings to rots away. And what thrives, unnamed

inside that hollow: a god, a ghost, everything we’ve buried, where

we ache to forget—for rain to come and flood the space between our ribs, or fire

to devour it, and us with it. How every evening that flickering light

is a kind of yearning. How I imagine at the edge of that yearning you

toe the dim line, afraid to walk into an empty home. Yes, even now I imagine you

dancing. How one day we’ll empty ourselves of all our prayers:

the lies we untwisted like cellophane wrappers, a handful of feathers, the dim light

of incense at the bottom of a bowl. But please, just once more, tell me the name

of the song you hummed in my dreams—the one with the bright red

apples buried beneath the winter snow. Teach me to sing the song where

the wind never wept into my hands the name of any girl

where the waters could soothe the red glow of our prayers

and in that soft silence, somewhere, we could turn off the porch light.


BRET YAMANAKA is a Japanese American poet, dancer, and teaching artist from Southern California. Currently, he lives in New York, where he is a 2022 Margins Fellow with the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and a Dance Teaching Fellow at The Juilliard School. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Iowa Review and The Margins.


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