Waking to the sound of the whup-whupping
of the electric fan, the sound of minyo
warmly drifting from the old radio.
Things were not always this way for him.
This was not how he had planned it all.
First, off the boat, then into the fields under
the endless summer sun over the red
baked earth. A few years here then back again—
dreams of tile roofs instead of thatched,
the girl waiting for his heroic return—
instead he wasted away guzzling cheap beer
all night. This was not the way it was to be.
When he got on the boat, his clothes were fresh.
His hands didn’t crack when they moved. Smooth skin,
not wrinkled and burnt. Trading in a bent-
back over a rice field for one strong arm
and the other scarred in a cane field.
He worked hard, rusting away, chasing
a little coin. Why shouldn’t he want a beer,
or guzzle the homemade booze from the bowl
of rotting rice in the corner. His cheeks
numbing against the endless humidity
of the everlasting plantation summers.
The long nights of alone-ing, of silence
seeping into the dark craggy skin. Youth
falling away slow, slowly falling
like his chest, his belly. Self-medicating,
self-anesthetizing with the bitter,
foreign amber burning his throat, in the arms
of a woman who empties his pockets,
in the last desperate roll of the dice.
He’ll be forgotten soon enough,
be that one remembered only with
the scratch of a chin or a rub
at the back of the head and a sigh.
Too long, much too much time, too much lost and
losing. Plans and dreams fell away—like chaff
falling and flying in the trade winds.
What is the measure of a wasted life?
What value in impossible dreams chased
half-heartedly, then crushed by derailed plans,
its dust slipping through old, withered fingers
and lost in a mass of pristine sand?
And now, like Urashima Taro, the years
have caught up to him, everyone he knew
or loved is gone and planted in the ground.
No one left to even remember him
as he listens to the sad whup-whupping
of the old fan and minyo on the radio,
leaving the world without a bang or whisper—
but fading in the last breath of someone else.
Author's Commentary: "Forgotten Father" is one of several poems I've written recently as I've thought about the choices my immigrant ancestors made, how some of their smallest decisions have had profound consequences over the past century, and I've marveled at how shrewd or lucky we have been. I wrote this poem after reading part of an oral history of the Issei, the first generation of Japanese immigrants, about how some men who came and never went home, never had families, and died alone and ruined. This poem imagined one of those men’s thoughts at the end, sitting alone with his memories and dreams.
Daryl Muranaka was raised in California and Hawaii. He currently lives in the Boston area with his wife and two children. In his spare time, he enjoys aikido and taijiquan and exploring his children’s dual heritages.