Norma Chapman


The trout that yesterday muscled through water
lies headless on my plate. Your bare stick

dances to a fusion beat while I grow old
in Aunt Bebe's rocking chair.

Honey, don't fall like water.
Honey, don't sing so loud.

On old bodies, buttocks
hang like soft leather pouches.

I might as well bite the poison apple
and forget the prince. He isn't coming anyway.

Oh, Honey, don't fall like water.
Oh, Honey, don't sing so loud.


Before his second birthday the membrane
of diphtheria nearly closed his mouth for good.
His parents, carriers of salvation to the Japanese,

dedicated their son to God in gratitude but committed
the care of his body to their servant, San Ji-Ki San.
She washed his skin and talked to him in Japanese.

Every night, through his closed bedroom door, he heard
his mother singing hymns in her lush contralto voice.
He knew she stood in the hallway brushing her dark hair.

Every morning, except Sunday, she slept off a hangover
of all-night prayer.  No one went near her.
When he was six, San Ji-Ki San told him it was time

to eat dinner with his parents.  At table, they spoke
to each other, never to him.  He didnít understand a word
they said, however much he watched his motherís lips.

He longed for his nursery suppers, eating fish and rice
with polished bamboo hashi and hearing about the boy
who sprouted from a peach seed to become a Samurai.

One night after dinner, when a visiting missionary
asked him a question in English, He made no reply.
His mother turned the color of skimmed milk.

She pulled him to her bedroom, pushed aside
the visitorsí coats and spanked him with her brush
until he cried.  He asked in Japanese ďWhat did I do?Ē


When he was 60, he learned his mother was dying
in Oakland, California. He packed a bag with pictures
of San Ji-Ki San and his Japanese story books.  He told

no one where he was going.  In Maine, he watched
the winter waves and remembered Hokkaidoís northern
coast.  He read again the stories of his childhood

and he thought in Japanese.  He tried not to think
of coffins, of San Ji-Ki Sanís a decade before,
or his motherís, soon to be surrounded by baskets

of lilies, the family, and a Presbyterian minister
praising her life.  The congregation would sing hymns
she had sung in the hallway of their Hokkaido house.

Nor did he wish to consider the familyís anger
toward him, he who was once pulled from death
by his motherís prayers, now unforgiven,

ears and mouth closed to the language of God.

Norma Chapman
Norma Chapman lives in Brunswick, a small town in Western Maryland.  She started writing poetry after turning sixty, somewhat to her surprise.  Her poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from River Styx, Passager, Innisfree Poetry Journal, Iris, and Maryland Poetry Review. She received a 2003 Maryland State Arts Council Grant.



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