Back to Issue Forty-Four

Winter Solstice, 2021



Just as I think I can no longer take it,
It happens. The earth’s axis tilts furthest away from the sun
On my side of the hemisphere. An event outside of my mindscape.

As I entered the dusk that kept pulling me downward
Like quicksand, I turned to practicing
“Starfish.” I stretch my arms, legs, fingers and toes

To their most expanded position, sending signals
To my brain that I am safe, no need to respond with
The fight or flight response. Life is not worth living, wrote Seneca,

If we indulge our fears to the greatest possible extent.
If fear wins a majority of the votes, incline
In the other direction anyhow.

Now, strangers live in our house in Tokyo, where
On the night of winter solstice, we’d eat
Golden pumpkin cubes cooked in soy sauce and mirin,

Take a hot bath infused with the citrus scent of yuzu:
A ritual against catching a cold, against all evil forces.
That was before Mother was unwell, her memory trickling down

A hidden drain, her eyes gradually growing vacant.
For the last two and a half years, I’ve seen her only in dreams.
Tonight, I open myself like a starfish

In some cosmic aquarium, a child-God eagerly
Reaches for my brittle center and five arms. Or,
One of the many in the ocean, spiny stars in various shades,

Wading through the bone-white sand. We tumble down
The darker and the darkest bottom until the new day finally
Arrives, when the light outweighs the dark by the slightest margin.


Blossoms Once More



Their arrival is sudden.
Late March, here and there,
only a few blossoms braved

the unseasonable cold. Then
one evening, having spent all day
at a teleconference screen, discussing

prose poetry, I stepped out
for fresh air and snacks.
It took me an entire block before

I looked up at those blossoms
above my head, glowing white
in the streetlights, and my mouth

turned into a little O.
Hundreds of cherry trees line
both sides of University Avenue.

I am here—after seven years
from my last sabbatical—the borders now
closed to my American husband.

Why are more people writing prose poems?
asked my audience. Perhaps because
life itself started to feel flat,

accidental, even surreal
in the most absurdist fashion,
I wanted to say. But tonight,

we are watching and are being
watched by white, pink, almost
translucent flowers who hold their breaths

above the stores, streetlamps, bus stations
as if to remind us of a world beyond
this one, a ghost of a fragrance

about to tear our hearts with its purity.
From a 7-Eleven, I emerge with a small can
of premium beer and a tuna-mayo rice ball

after some struggle with the machine
that consumes money without touching my hand.
How I wish I would run into an old friend

from anywhere. People in masks are still
walking hesitantly, dreamily,
whispering to each other, Finally.


Story for My Mother



In the story I am going to write for my mother,
there won’t be a boy
but a girl, born not from a peach
but from a gourd. A demon
knocks on the door in the afternoons.
I will give her the gift of ignoring.
She will be busy working the loom.
Instead of a shroud for the dead, she weaves her
summer days, green tendrils
reaching to heaven.

In the story I am going to write for my mother,
the girl will have a big appetite.
In fact, she has developed a second mouth
at the back of her head.
This is why she keeps her hair long.
She may marry
or she may not.
She can finish a rice ball
the size of Mt. Fuji
and feel no shame.

In the story I am going to write for my mother,
the girl wakes in a castle covered with brambles.
Who was she waiting for, playing
dead all these years? Now
her rice bag is full of mice!
Pragmatist at heart,
she bites into a bitter melon for potassium,
tucks up her dress and sprints.
What time is it? Time
to get the hell out of there.

In the story I am going to write for my mother,
there will be an orphan and a benefactor
who sends her to college in America.
She will never meet him. When she hears
English, she doesn’t think of money.
On her desk, Shakespeare, a pot
of the nightingale’s droppings for
her face regimen. Just like that,
she feels neither superior
nor out of place.


Miho Nonaka is a bilingual poet from Tokyo. She is the author of The Museum of Small Bones (Ashland Poetry Press, 2020) and the Japanese translator of Louise Glück’s The Wild Iris (KADOKAWA, 2021). She teaches creative writing at Wheaton College.

Next (Kinsale Drake) >

< Previous (Joanna Klink)