From Hanami: Strawberry Patches

“Strawberry Patches” is the third Asian American poem I wrote, but it’s the one that would set the tone of how I would approach so-called ethnic poetry until 20 years later (the time of Minstrel) when I changed. It’s also the poem where a lot of how I learned to write poems happened. The drafting and revision process on this poem became the template for all the poems over the next ten years.

The story of the poem is this, when I was a kid there were still a lot of Japanese American strawberry patches and farms in California. From what I understand, that’s disappeared. Not far from where we lived, though, there was a strawberry patch we would usually get our strawberries from. It was a family business. The patch was on a large block. It was the block. Across the street from the patch was a strip mall, and there were houses on the three other blocks that surrounded the patch. What Mom told me later was that the old man who owned the patched, used to own all that land too and he sold a lot of it over the years to developers. She said, he made some money on that. Like many Japanese Americans of his generation, he’d been interned. My family, which lived in Hawaii, had not, and growing up, I thought about that a lot. When you’re a kid and you meet someone who was wronged like that, it’s good for you see that he came out on top. But it bothered me, because I knew not everyone did. This whole story is, of course, my recollection of what my Mom told me and any mistakes are mine alone.

At the same time, the lesson here is bitterness and anger can be impediments to success. It doesn’t mean that you have them, and it doesn’t mean that their wrong. But they must be controlled if you’re going to come out on top. They can consume you if you’re not careful to harness them.

Strawberry Patches

Those berries you grew—
red, rich and wet—
that wonderful smell,
the juices running
freely down my throat—
but your name, your name.
Why can’t I remember?

I see your stand covered
with the geometric holes
of a thousand
other strawberry shacks
but familiar to a boy
who grew up
loving strawberries.

When I heard about
the Internment payments
I thought about your hands
holding the small, green
basket like a baby, placing
it in my mother’s arms—
that proud smile
on your face.

You didn’t seem like a man
who could hold a grudge,
but someone who kept
life simple with children
tending strawberry patches.

So when I hear
your fields are gone,
I remember those summertime visits,
that crimson smell
on my hands, that juice
running freely
in my throat.

Hanami was published in 2015 by Aldrich Press by Kelsay Books. You can find Hanami at Amazon.com. Thank you to Karen Kelsay, who is my editor and publisher, for all her wonderful advice and help. “Strawberry Patches” was originally published by the Clackamas Literary Review. 

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This entry was posted in Creative Writing, General, Hanami, Japanese America, Poetry, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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