Poetry Friday: Cincinnati

July 23rd, 2010

This week’s poem comes from Robin Turner’s recent book, Greater Expectations: Teaching Academic Literacy to Underrepresented Students. Robin uses the poem Cincinnati by Mitsuye Yamada in a time literary analysis writing exercise with his Puente class. At this point in the school year, Robin’s students are reading Elie Wiesel’s Night and the class is very interested in World War II. Robin hands them this poem after reading a couple of other poems to practice analyzing out loud.

Cincinnati
Mitsuye Yamada

Freedom at last
in this town aimless
I walked against the rush
hour traffic
My first day
in a real city
where
no one knew me.
No one except one
hissing voice that said
dirty jap
warm spittle on my right cheek.
I turned and faced
the shop window
and my spittled face
spilled onto a hill
of books.
Words on display.
In Government Square
people criss-crossed
the street
like the spokes of
a giant wheel.
I lifted my right hand
but it would not obey me.
My other hand fumbled for a hankie.
My tears would not
wash it. They stopped
and parted.
My hankie brushed
the forked
tears and spittle
together.
I edged toward the curb
loosened my fisthold
and the bleached laced
mother-ironed hankie blossomed in
the gutter atop teeth marked
gum wads and heeled candy wrappers.
Everyone knew me.

Entry Filed under: Poetry Friday

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Laura Shovan  |  July 23rd, 2010 at 11:33 am

    One of my poetic mentors — Maria Mazziotti Gillan — has a wonderful anthology on this subject. It’s “Unsettling America: An Anthology of Contemporary Multicultural Poetry.” What a powerful poem this is — the candy wrappers are a powerful metaphor.

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