SAL/ON

A Blog of Seattle Arts & Lectures

“Ancestry Isn’t Just Some DNA Test,” by Kiyoshi Sakauye

Ancestry Isn’t Just Some DNA Test
A Letter to My Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Grandmother

I wonder what your name was.
Did it taste like bitter Mount Fuji snow,
or sweet dirt from Aokigahara forest?
When we were born,
did war carve
Its name into your fragment bones?
When you were a teenager,
Were you already a mother?
Did my great great great great great great great grandmother
cry to the scent of
your kimono?
Did you find a
husband to make
cloud-spun miso soup for?
Or did he
kiss you in bruises
you never wanted?
When you were a mother,
did you sing the same lullabies
my mother used to sing to me?
When you were a grandmother,
did you let
your grandchild sleep
in your sun-dried futon
and hold them with your
sun-kissed arm
so they wouldn’t fall into tatami sea?
When you died,
did your children burn you
on the grass that’s caked with concrete?
When you died,
Did you cry the tsunamis
that eat Japan’s children?
When you died,
Did you hide away hidden races
Because
Ancestry isn’t just a dna test.

They won’t tell me if you had the Tanaka’s rounded nose.
Or if your name was even Tanaka.
They won’t tell me if you could see your cheeks when you smiled
peeking from under your monolid eyes.
They won’t tell me how much dirt covered your knees or
how your apron smelled after tending the leaves of
countryside air
or what pitch your rare laugh was when
Your child hugged your
Pot belly,
Or your mother belly,
Or small belly,
Whatever kind of belly.
They won’t tell me if you
Smelled like my grandma.
That old japanese smell that
Close my eyes to the contrast of
Americana.
I wonder what your name was.
A dna ancestry test won’t tell me.
But then again,
You’re not some statistic.
You’re my great great great great great great great grandmother,
And you
won’t die
To the mercy of a number.


This poem was performed by 2018/19 Youth Poet Laureate Ambassador Kiyoshi Sakauye at SAL’s 2019 Words Matter Benefit Gala & Literary Auction on Thursday, April 4, 2019. WITS Writer-in-Residence Matt Gano had this to say about Kiyoshi’s piece:

“I have had the privilege and joy of witnessing Kiyoshi grow from a student initially wary of writing poetry into a strong emerging writer. One who draws light to powerful critiques on social inequities and gender identity while pinpointing imagery with sharp and surprising language. I admire Kiyoshi’s deep sense of truth, and also Kiyoshi’s desire to bring poetry to others both in his own writing, and as a developing workshop instructor. As 2018/19 Youth Poet Laureate Ambassador, Kiyoshi has continued to shine, encouraging other youth writers both as a student leader at The Center School and across greater Seattle communities. Poetry does save, change, and elevate our lives and clearly, the words do matter.”

Posted in Words MatterWriters in the SchoolsYouth Poet Laureate2018/19 Season