chopsticks and bones
by Missie Yamamura

i sit at the farthest edge of my floor cushion inhaling the lingering smell of drugstore shampoo and the altar’s incense. these fading scents are familiar, yet unsettling when mixed in the same room. my eyes avert to anywhere that doesn’t meet your sleeping profile. i focus my attention to another familiar smell: moth balls. fur balls bundle into itself on obaachan’s worn in black wool cardigan. at a glance it looks itchy on the skin, but as I pick off each furball tenderly it’s bearable. even today she hasn’t failed to apply the honey milk serum to her speckled hair and draw the tips of snow kissed eyebrows with a grey pencil. the natural light in your room deceives the common passerby. aside from the adult sized icebox situated in the front of the room, you would think it was just a mini family reunion ft. a foreigner granddaughter, overworked uncle, and chatty obaachan.

when one has ample time to kill, there’s a creeping sense of anxiousness met with fortitude. half-heartedly miscounting the specs of dust caught in the rising sun’s rays to exhausting your intermediate level Japanese speaking skills, your mind ever so returns to the freshly watered tsubaki flower vase offered by your portrait. when a Buddhist enters the pure land does this surpass all language barriers? can you hear my grievances from my swollen ducts or ringing ears? i had so much to say to you, but the years of hamburger helper and ketchup accents overpower the umami flavors of dashi and mirin on my pallet. seeing a lifeless body exposed to the natural environment leaves a loved one in a vulnerable state. i disassociate you being my ojiichan to some frozen in time memory in a wax museum. within two hours your physical form goes from flesh to bone. a stranger telling me your hips were sturdy.  ninety year old hands with a sixty year old wedding ring ceremoniously picking up your finger bones with two crafted bamboo sticks. traversing Buddhist paradise in a white kimono and tabi, you’ve reached enlightenment; the worldly tatami mat room further distances itself from the human consciousness as rebirth awaits.

Missie is an educator living in Fukuoka, Japan. Their work focuses on defining what it means to be Nikkei (second generation) Japanese American on her own terms.