Haibun Today

A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Editor
Volume 5, Number 3, September 2011

Steven Carter
Tucson, Arizona, USA


Topaz, Utah

For sixty years I've felt walled in—walled off is probably a better word—by memories of my father. Not that they add up to a lot.

During World War II, my father served as a social worker in three Japanese relocation camps where he'd done his best to improve the lot of inmates, so much so that for years after his death—up to my mother's death in 1965, when I lost contact with everyone—we received dozens of Christmas cards from repatriated Japanese families to whom my parents and their circle of friends had shown kindness and compassion during the dark years of Executive Order 9066.

protest bonfires
safe behind .50 cals

Earlier this year my wife and I watched Ken Burns' PBS documentary series, The War. Episode Two devoted a long segment to the Japanese internment camps at inland, desolate places like Topaz, Poston, Manzanar and Tule Lake. Watching footage from an unnamed camp (from photographs in my family album I recognized it, however, as Topaz) my wife said, "What if we saw your dad?"

Then, unbelievably, a moment or two later there he was: wearing a short tie, sleeves rolled up, sitting for a group photo on the first row of a very large grandstand filled with scores of Japanese.

seagulls blown in
distant waves—
restless dreams

My father and the pretty blonde next to him, whom I recognized as the wife of my godfather, were the only Caucasians in the clip. In my scrapbook I have a glossy black and white of the same group obviously taken at the same time (Burns' documentary scene was filmed in grainy color.)

new arrivals
calming the kids
a tall M.P.

As the camera runs my father turns, smiling, and says something to my godfather's wife, who smiles back and brushes a lock of hair from her eye. Then, just like that, the episode moves on.

Thinking it over, I'm strangely unmoved, maybe because I'd seen a still of the same scene before; or because, as I rerun the brief scene many times, nothing changes: he murmurs the same words to the young woman next to him and then, elbows on knees and hands folded, looks straight ahead, not at the camera and not at me.

barbed wire moon—
smiling for the camera
Japanese girls

. . . .Weeks and months after viewing the documentary, I became trapped in the same dream night after night. On a gently curving hill, as a strange gray light suffuses everything, my father walks ahead of me. With the warped perspective and depth perception of dreams, although he's walking more slowly than I, he recedes into the distance farther and farther.

A warm wind picks up when I finally I call out to him. Walking faster now, he waves without looking back.

floating in the haze
snowy mountains—
dreams of escape


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