Oh, Say Can You See
I can’t see anything without my glasses,
except the world’s blurred words,
the moon’s glow through the window.
Tonight, my son calls for his mother,
and it’s me who soothes him back to sleep.
Then it’s just me on the stairs outside
his room, looking for a poem to write,
something about injustice or prejudice,
something to inspire the world to become
a kind of place where a man can shake
the hand of another man and not fear
about the knife in his pocket, the words
I can’t see without reading his mind.
It’s just me again, trying to imagine
what my son sees at night as he sleeps—
maybe he can predict the future, visions
of a country where we don’t worry
about rockets and children sleeping
in graveyards, about rifles and children
hiding in closets at school. Where we can
live without wondering how to survive
the dangers we make for ourselves
but cannot see. Where we can be
two people who can hold one another just
because we don’t want to be alone.
Ramparts We Watched
We live together in a country divided by panic
because these days everything is a bomb.
I know the difference between a good man
and a man holding a burning cross,
the difference between holding wickedness
at bay and claiming the dinosaur bones
are the Devil’s work. My son has never been
in a fight but he is too young to defend himself,
too young to understand that we build walls
sometimes because we live together in a country
that might not know the difference between
a bomb and a boy who will one day grow up
full-blast into a man who is some days white,
some days not. This dream America has
about being made of ramparts and banners
is more prison yard than castle on the hill
because in 1946, my family returned
to America from that concentration camp
in Idaho where we lived together watching
the prairie’s violent beauty on the other side
of the wire. Some days, we survived.
Some days, we are still living there together.
Rocket’s Red Glare
My favorite thing is space, stars shivering
as the darkness gathers in silent plumes
over our heads. Tonight, my father ignites
the sky to let us know where we are
all headed one day—we live together
on the ground, whether or not we like it
when the landscape is littered with dead birds,
with beautiful carcasses that can’t recall
how it feels to be close to Heaven. Tonight,
there are other things in the sky, and a poem
is a thing I make in the dark as my son plays
at sleeping, while he dreams of jumping
on the moon, so far from where we live
in America. Once we lived in a concentration
camp in Idaho, a distant memory when it was
a fire in my father’s chest, more distant
now that it burns in mine. Once, we sang
like wolves out in the snow, faces
turned up at the constellations and hoping
someone out there understands and howls back
and God, that great silence reverberates
through all of us. Tonight, my father sings
no longer, but where there is fire, there is fire.
The heat is my father’s. The smoke is mine.
And when my son looks up at the sky,
he will notice how small everything looks
from far away—a bomb is a flicker of light,
then a flurry of dust, then darkness.
Bombs Bursting in Air
An explosion is a flower
opening over and over and over
until there are no more flowers
on Earth. My son doesn’t understand
what a bomb is but he jumps
up and down on the front porch
because it is finally Spring outside.
he says, boom boom, then laughs
when I drop to the ground beside him.
An explosion is a blossom
blooming terrible so far away,
we can sleep through to morning
without worrying about a bomb
landing in my son’s bed and turning
everything into flowers. Right now
on the other side of the world,
Boom, Boom, Boom
there is a man dropping
to the ground beside his son
because an explosion is not a flower,
not a blossom, not the sunrise
erupting under him.
There is a blank space
where his house once was.
There is no one to notice
there is a blank space
where his house once was.
W. Todd Kaneko is the author of The Dead Wrestler Elegies (Curbside Splendor 2014) and co-author of Poetry: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology (Bloomsbury Academic 2018). A Kundiman fellow, he is co-editor of Waxwing magazine and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he teaches at Grand Valley State University.