The Fujimi Fields in Owari Province
-- from Hokusai’s “36 Views of Mt. Fuji”
To see the world through Hokusai's eyes
begins with a perfectly circular barrel
still bottomless and wide
To honor the barrel's artist
show him shirtless, down on one knee
a brush in his hand
To frame our life within an ordinary barrel
behold these rice fields and forests
brimming with green
I’ve been called that girl with slanted eyes,
somehow an imperfection, but I know
how early my vision was blessed
with the almost genetic artistry
given to generations
As if our ancestors instinctively made sure
those who followed would
always strive for what’s lovely
we children watching a grandmother
rearranging her chrysanthemums
And no matter the occasion
things had to look pretty
from a plate of homemade sushi
to a stack of Christmas presents
a gorgeous visual arrangement
Things I took for granted as natural
unspoken lessons on color and shape
a preference for simplicity
in decorating the house
my eager leaning toward pine
My mother could take bright yarn and burlap
weave a whimsical tapestry
of tropical birds
or use junkyard discards
piece together a sculpture
for her wall
In the desert camp of Manzanar
my grandfather joined other issei
to build Japanese gardens
defying the harsh terrain
with lush cherry trees and lily-
Even now an aunt keeps writing tanka
a son fills his rooms with paintings
a friend carves his own
flutes from bamboo
all of us cultivating the eye
At Least 47 Shades
The goldfinch in its full spring molt.
The bee pollen of sticky and thick.
The quince to perfume a new bride’s kiss.
The ocher yellow in Vermeer’s pearl necklaced woman.
The opal cream floral on a kimonoed sleeve.
The zest yellow of a Nike Quickstrike in limited numbers.
The imperial yellow embroidered robes.
The Aztec gold sent by Cortez to Spain.
The Zinnia gold favored by butterflies.
The iguana who keeps watch on Mayan ruins.
The straw hat a cone woven with young bamboo.
The rising sun of Japan’s Amaterasu leaving her cave.
The sand dune that swallows the film’s lovers but keeps them alive.
The coastlight of sun lost in fog.
The chilled lemonade from the fruit of bitterness.
The Manila tint to sunny the laundry room.
The blond and boring heartthrob.
The yellow flash before the grin gets too tight.
The lemon tart with a mouth to match.
The star fruit which can mean two-faced in Tagalog.
The fool’s gold of sojourners and farmers.
The golden promise that still lures us here.
The sunshower which turns my tawny skin brown.
The banana split of Asian outside white underneath.
The Chinese mustard stirred with a dribble of soy sauce.
The yellowtail tuna father cleaned and sliced thin.
The yolk we ate raw with sukiyaki and rice.
The pear ice cream we licked that Tohoku summer.
The moonscape suffusing a rice paper screen.
The theater lights which make the audience vanish.
The electric yellow called Lake Malawi’s yellow prince.
The daffodil that doesn’t match these mean streets.
The marigold for night sweats and contusions.
The summer haze which splits open the sky.
The slicker yellow bands on those 9/11 jackets.
The dandelion that bursts through sidewalks.
The blazing star we still can’t see rushing toward us.
The yellow rose legend of a Texas slave woman.
The atomic tangerine of Los Alamos, New Mexico.
The Jasper yellow of gemstone and James Byrd.
The flame yellow as bone turns to ash.
The wick moving in time with my measured breath.
The first light an eye latches on to.
The whisper yellow as a pale strand of moon.
The yellow lotus that’s nourished by mud.
The poppy spring returns to the Antelope Valley.
The wonderstruck even in these old eyes.
The Chinese lantern riding a night sky.
The sparkler a child waves in the dark.
Previously published in Amy Uyematsu’s fourth book, “The Yellow Door.”
Amy Uyematsu is a sansei (third-generation Japanese American) poet and teacher from Los Angeles. She has six published collections - the most recent being That Blue Trickster Time (What Books Press, 2022). Her first poetry collection, 30 Miles from J-Town, won the 1992 Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize. Amy taught high school math for LA Unified Schools for 32 years. Active in Asian American Studies when it first emerged in the late 60s, she penned “The Emergence of Yellow Power in America” and was co-editor of the widely-used UCLA anthology, Roots: An Asian American Reader.