Isako Isako

Alice James. Sept. 2018. 100p. ISBN 9781938584947. pap. $15.95. POETRY
While it opens with an official U.S. document regarding the World War II interment of those with Japanese ancestry, this beautifully conceived and executed debut collection goes far beyond reportage, instead offering a deeply personal reconstruction of Malhotra's female forebears. "Instead I write about dust. A pigment that stains yellow and cannot be removed," says an early poem recalling Isako, the author's grandmother, emphasizing both the blown-away aspect of the past and the intractability of racism. "How little/ we leave behind. Feathers/ on the bottom of a bird cage," says one poem, while a child's effectively escalating distress when a dog attacks her pet rabbit expands in the following poem to conclude, "We,/ the hunted, are formed// to flee, feet furred for speed." The poems move deftly from ash-exploded Japanese cities to Laos, Thailand, and the Vietnam War Memorial, also depicting the grandmother's struggle with cancer, thus capturing a family's many lifetimes in persuasive verse.
VERDICT This Alice James Award winner is a strong addition to most collections.
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