i am sitting in the driver’s seat of the car when she tells me she can no longer understand the language she was born into.

her eyes still bear the weight of their heavy lids, cheekbones still too found and high for her palm-flattened nose, but neither bring the Kanji into focus.

I ask how long it took to learn English, how long it took her to spoon out every piece of her heritage, sucking out the marrow one forgotten character at a time, how long it took her to start signing things Kay instead of Kiyoko.

20 years ago I stole her name – bloody and silent in sickness, I was given the name Kiyoko. An homage to a woman who had left the name to fill her footprints to America like rainwater. An homage to a woman who’s drivers license and birthday cards were both written in English. An homage to a woman who cloaked her name in a veil of assimilation, living quietly beneath her skin.

2 years ago she took back her name- spooning it into the throats of those who still called her Kay. That is when I know that even if she cannot remember the meaning of the kanji she squints over, America has not swallowed her. That even the most thorough baptism cannot scrub a woman clean of the waves of cane, snakes the size of a man’s thigh, the peak of her island with the ocean visible in every direction.


Bill and Melinda

My grandma calls bill gates and his wife by their first names, arranging their successes around her neck in place of her own. Bill and Melinda have a property down that way. Bill and Melinda do so much for those less fortunate. 

She lives alone in a condo overlooking well kept green, the inside of her home sterilized by inherited money, 6 grown children and one dead husband.

Her body fills up too little of her home and still she says it is too small for her. Memories and new information slide off her skin like soap, and she packs the space- beneath the stairs, inside the pot of her wilted fir – full of the bits she does remember.

she tries to find the place she put the name of her 3rd boy, and it takes two minutes to find it penned on a post it note, stuck to the cheek of her kitchen cabinet. She locates her order at in-n-out burger beneath a pile of blouses, the tags still attached.

She never finds the breed of her brothers dog, hidden inside an empty pharmacy bottle, but she remembers Bill and Melinda, you know, they have the same kind. 

Questions for an Aging Woman

Do you remember telling me the story of how you met my grandfather twice today?Why are your kitchen cabinets covered in sticky notes, a colorful mosaic of things you never do? How long has it been since you watered the stag horn fern beside your front door? You made that pot of coffee twice today. Did you remember to take the salmon out of the oven?