SPOTLIGHT: SHIMA (Islands) by Tamiko Dooley

Hanabi (Fireworks)

Gunshots woke me
Firing into the clouds
Smoke through fog
Lights exploding

When I ran to the mado
To be dazzled by dappled rainbows

They stopped

Each time I slid open the bamboo shutter
Pressed my nose to the mosquito netting:

A silent, starless night
shizuka de kurai yoru

Only when I returned to my futon
Laid down my head
Would they start again

If I return to my yume
Will I be a part of them
Or will I be shut inside

As hanabi entertain
Out there

She faces the buttons.
Going up, Floor 34.
The uniform hat perches on her slick and gleaming bun:
Regulation size.
Regulation lipstick, regulation gloves, regulation heels
(they measure them in the morning).

If you ask how often
A hand brushed against the back of her skirt
(regulation length)
Or fingers lingered on her waist
(regulation width)
She’d hide her teeth with her hand
cock her head to the side

If she hears another joke about pressing her buttons
Or how the business is going
(It has its ups and downs)
her shoulders will shake
With the laughter that bounces off four glass walls

But at night, after a bath she shares with three generations
In a cramped apartment a train ride away
Where they turn off the lights to save the yen

Her fingers grip the futon

When she closes her eyes she goes up and down
Inner ear confusing movement with memory

And as she sleeps, her teeth clench and unclench
Buttons pressed over and over
Grinding against each other in protest
Until they wear each other down over time
And nothing remains.


I thought you looked funny before
She said, tilting her head to one side
But now that you wear glasses
You look even funnier

The lollipop in her mouth
Moved to the other cheek
To give one side relief from the sugar.

Facts stated without irony, guilt or doubt, she skipped off to hold her aunt’s hand.

The crowds pressed in on us
At Tokyo Disneyland
We could hardly move for people
Row after row of black hair and long socks
And pleated skirts, taken for a day trip

And I, a tall nine-year-old, in jeans and
Chestnut locks and frames I’d spent hours
Agonising over at the optician’s

had never




Saisho to Saigo (The beginning and the end)

You were sharing a room
With the other girls
First job, first flight
Out of Narita.

6 hats perched on the tables for tomorrow,
6 skirts hanging and 6
Pairs of heels by the bolted door,
Next to the mini-fridge.

First night away from home.

Your stomach rumbled and
You remembered my grandmother
Had made you an omusubi rice ball
You crept out of bed to unzip your suitcase
Whilst the others shouted at you to be quiet

You unwrapped the delicate paper
Still smelling of the house in Nakano
Lines of Baba’s palm molded onto the
Seaweed, her thumbprints in the rice
Signature sweet and tangy umeboshi at the centre

You knew then what you were leaving behind
That adventures would begin to unfold

Your tears fell silently
Blending into freshly-washed hair
Ready for tomorrow’s early call
First job, first flight.


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