Festival of Dolls

On the cusp of puberty
August 1945,
my world changed in a gasp.

From Fukuoka, somewhere
between Hiroshima and
Nagasaki, I saw

two chariot clouds that would
lift me from the cellar where
precious potatoes were

stored, as if my atoms were
shaken, rearranged, to find
myself riding the cap

 of a mushroom shroud, drifting
over Fujiyama, then
east across the ocean.

I believed any place else
was better than where I lived:
coaxing warmth from ashes,

scouring streets for ragged sheets
of seaweed to wrap around
black-market rice and fish.

Once, I stole a sack of red
plums, and Mother smacked my face
before she sliced the fruit

and offered it to Father.
But in Nagasaki and
Hiroshima, a hand

imprinted on a cheek means
nothing to shadows set in
concrete. Why can’t life be

like Hinamatsuri, when
I would dress up all my dolls
for their hand-picked husbands?

I would dream of real daughters
to swathe in fine kimonos.
I surrendered to smiling

soldiers, who nicknamed me “Doll,”
and promised me chocolates
today and tomorrow.

So much for a hungry girl
with eyes for America,
land of silk and money.

—First appeared in Paterson Literary Review

JL Kato is a retired newspaper copy editor. His poetry collection, Shadows Set in Concrete, was selected as a Best Book of Indiana in 2011. A longtime ambassador of the literary arts, he was chosen as 2022 Literary Champion by the Indiana Authors Awards.

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