i need poemspoemspoemspoems
a universe of nothing but–
just to keep the light on
just to keep my head
in a world gone madmadmad
The ending stanza of Mary Oishi’s first poem in Rock Paper Scissors showcases exactly how I needed this book, at this point in my life especially. Co-written with her daughter, Aja Oishi, Rock Paper Scissors is divided into two parts: part one being Mary’s, a mother’s poetry of strength and survival. And it radiates and embodies those two qualities so well, but it goes beyond the theme of motherhood alone — though it was this theme that I clung to desperately, now raising two daughters of my own, and an old friend of much survival and some strength.
Mary’s part in the book starts with a subtle strength, though; short poems pack brief blows of heartbreak and speak a story of resilience, touching on abandonment (when i asked how my mother could give me away), growing up biracial (at least I had siblings, you said), the impact of racism, and politics (in numerous poems, though most notably in Thoughts on the Execution of Troy Davis).
“Heaven help us,” Mary writes, “We are ALL Troy Davis.” But in the same stride that she seeks to remind readers of our unified human-ness with this and other works, her poem prior, Ghosts of Penn’s Woods, packs a reminder of the brutality of colonization. Her heavy concentration on politics does not cease here: broken frame left a lump in my throat, womb-heart aching not only because I am both mother and woman, but because I have faced the choice of abortion.
this poem is a graphic picture on a sign
in front of every senator, every candidate
who calls for escalation, for “tough measures”
this is a pro-life poem.
THIS. is a PRO-LIFE poem.
She begins with this brave declaration, placing the reader briefly in the shoes of a war-ridden woman; for every politician who screams PRO-LIFE, we are left with the echoing question, “What about the children in Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan?” The list could go on, loud as bombs.
But then, there is perhaps a message more easily related to.
“she wonders if her pro-choice sisters,” she writes, “will stand with her now,” speaking of a doubt that has flooded the minds of too many women more concerned with the thoughts of others than the impact of making their own choice may have on their futures. With unwavering finality, we are left with the firm belief of the author:
this poem demands all women’s right to choose,
ALL women, to really have choice, choices, opportunity
this is a pro-choice poem.
THIS. is a PRO-CHOICE poem.
This is a pro-life/pro-choice poem
looking for a new frame.
Never before had I read something that so wonderfully/horribly resonated with my own thoughts on the constant debate of choice, and for that, I cannot offer enough praise to Mary Oishi.
Her daughter, Aja Oishi, proves to be just as radiant in writing as her mother, though certainly with her own unique voice in the second part, a daughter’s poetry of chance and fate. Visually enlightening, Aja’s poetry awoke something visceral within me. Immediately, I felt as though I was being taken on a spiritual journey; but perhaps there was no surprise in such spirituality resonating in Aja’s writing with titles such as Creation Story and Of the three Fates, I choose scissors. Other poems, like Beast vibrated with simplistic form, and still strongly echoed that deep and complex spiritual feel.
Dig dig dig because you are small
and the small will survive.
Touch your hands to the earth
and do what it tells you.
Remember what you came for
Love and joy, and love and joy,
and love and joy.
She goes on to write about defending the sacred, reiterating that it is we who are sacred things; assuredly, each of her pieces are equally as beautiful and enlightening, offering a semblance of inner peace. But there is a bittersweetness, too, in poems like Fireflies that seek to remind us of our dying earth, of what we once thought of as eternal and how it’s now fading. In a political landscape strife with debate of climate change and global warming (and the list goes on from there, of course), I feel like Aja’s voice is necessary for my generation — we are the ones who witnessed little miracles like fireflies, and constantly buzzing bees, and our children will, perhaps, be the last to see such things as they fade only to be revisited in memories.
And perhaps this is why earth itself (or maybe it’s more apt to say herself) is such a beautifully repeating theme in Aja’s work. In don’t be afraid of the beautiful and high mountains, she again succeeds with offering a very visual piece, the message of which is simple and still so very important: don’t give up.
Don’t give up
for unbearable sorrow.
Don’t give up
for the terrible anger.
suffering piles up
on yesterday’s suffering
be we have work to do.
Even at night a miracle happens
with every in breath.
frogs emerge singing
and precious strawberries
in the mouth.
Written like a letter to a woman named Carol, it begins with the declaration, “Your very name is a praise song.” I was so utterly struck by this statement, and the lasting sentiment, “We need you here to sing the welcome song.”
Like her mother, Aja also speaks of heritage, of being a woman in this wild world, of the choices that we face. With My Body Between acts as a witness, from the perspective of patient escort, to every woman who has walked into an abortion clinic.
She’s worn every label you can think up
from good girl to fuck up.
She keeps her chin up.
She’s come in a rusty blue Mustang
and her brother’s pickup truck.
She saved to come out from Texas
—cause it’s much worse in Texas—
and her boyfriend’s come with her
on the bus from uptown.
They thought she wouldn’t get here,
cause she just finished
She thought she wouldn’t get here
cause in her forty-five years
she’d never been.
This entire piece chipped off pieces off my heart, not only because I have been there for reasons numerous, but because it made me feel seen. It made me ache and cry, it made me feel as though I were a part of a unified front, even with the recognition that this choice isn’t made lightly, and without hurt. And I think that was the most important thing: Aja’s words don’t seek to act as though this isn’t a painful choice, but certainly reiterates the fact that it is a CHOICE; a choice that women in all walks of life have had to make.
I could go on to wax poetic about each of Aja’s poems that follow, written from various personal experiences (though written in such a way that they are not impersonal, and allow the reader to insert themselves into the words and images and places), but maybe that would be too redundant. Instead, I leave you with the simple insistence that you buy this book. I speak as a mother, but believe this is a worthwhile collection to add to anyone’s library.
Mary Oishi has two poetic voices: one stark and simple like that
of her Japanese ancestors, and one that echoes the rhythms of
preachers from her upbringing by her American father’s
fundamentalist relatives. Both voices sing her songs of truth
and social justice. She is the author of Spirit Birds They Told Me
(2011) and is one of twelve U.S. poets in 12 Poetas: Antologia De
Nuevos Poetas Estadounidenses (2017), a project of the Mexican
Ministry of Culture. Her poems have appeared in Mas Tequila
Review, Malpais Review, Harwood Anthology, Sinister Wisdom, and
other print and digital publications. Oishi is a public radio
personality since 1996, most at KUNM-FM Albuquerque,
where she hosts The Blues Show.
Aja Oishi lives in northern New Mexico. Her writing draws
from ecology, anthropology, and the years she spent in Spain,
Japan, and New Zealand. She revels in the uncaged world and
makes a living (and a life) by fighting for prisoners as an
appellate public defender. This is her first collection of poetry.