1 poem

Gen Del Raye

Litmus Test


In high school in Kobe, the test
was simple.

We sang part of a song
from a TV show

and waited for you
to fill in the rest.

The part we sang
was always the same. 

If need be, you could
learn it.

Now I live in California
not far from a place 

where a painter woke to bullet-cracked glass
in 1942. I live near a place

where a dormitory stood
for Japanese-Americans 

refused a room
by everyone else.

Back then, the test
was called one drop 

which was, I am told
not an actual drop

but one-sixteenth of a bloodline
or a third of a liter

of foreignness.

There were many things back then
that didn’t mean the same thing

as the words that were used
to say them.  

Like the place in the camps
for mixed blood orphans

they called
the Children’s Village. 

Or the graveyard in Yokohama
mainly for children

abandoned or aborted by Japanese mothers
and callous or dishonest

or dead or desperate or simply realistic
American fathers 

and this graveyard which is squeezed
between train tracks and the dirt

of two public schools
holding bodies that belong by blood

and by statute to two different countries
is known as the Negishi

Foreigner’s Cemetery.

I tell you there is
a whole world of tests:

the dog that couldn’t
be with me in a room

because it suffered at the hands
of Asians, someone said

the boy who yelled that I was the one
who bombed Pearl Harbor.

My father’s test
which he explained the day

he bought me a globe
is the one I like best.  

You find the places
your parents were born in

and all the places
you’ve ever lived 

and take the average
which usually lands you 

somewhere in a sweep
of ocean.

"Litmus Test" was the winner of the 2018 Up North Poetry Prize


Gen Del Raye

Gen Del Raye was born and raised in Kyoto, Japan and currently lives in Minneapolis, MN. His fiction can be found, among other places, in The Best Small Fictions, The Monarch Review, and at gendelraye.blogspot.com. He is also the winner of the Force Majeure Flash Fiction Contest. This is his first poetry publication.