Volume 69, Number 1 · Fall 2019


Did I poison his seed? He yellowed, a plant needing
            water. All they could do—
shine lights to drain out the jaundice. I am

            knotted. Grace’s mother, Give him liquids.
The doctor, Hold back so he’ll take the breast.
            And my mother’s question, What did you eat
and drink that night?
My veins filled

            with sashimi’s mercury, liquid gold Sapporo
in the tatami room where Grace and I made love
            and Brendan began. Outside the ryokan

window, Ito’s river twisted into the sea,
            my half Japanese and her full Chinese
fusing into a strain impure and volatile.
            Chromosomes unwed

as we unite. Our double helixes, a strong
            braid that unravels from toxic
strands. The needle’s sting, and the vaccine’s arsenic

            flows through his vein. Holistic,
megadose miracles. Tsubo pinpoints
            on his skin. Fragile X
tests. Fecal transplants. We are pulled

            too close. Woven together, we might
mend him. My mother Jin Shin Jyutsu’s him, warm hands
            on his cranium. My father crushes vitamins

on his food. He’ll be fine, Grace’s father
            says. After hours with him
only one half-built tower. We search surgeons
            to take him apart, bring him

back better. One Chinese doctor says, Each seizure
            shakes the tree within, frees him
from the past
. Spirited away

            by his ancestors. This tangle could mean I am
a good father, Grace a good mother. I help him stack
            the tower higher, open his trust account.
She holds him

            on the tricycle’s black seat. His rhythms
and circles guide, dizzy, disorient us. We follow
            jagged lines, come to loose ends, pick up

broken branches. Never just one
            way. The tangle. This could mean
it’s all his fault. Or all ours. This could mean
            we’ll let go. Or we’ll never

have to. So much to hold. The boy
            he almost was.
The boy he is.

Brian Komei Dempster’s debut book of poems, Topaz (Four Way Books, 2013), received the 15 Bytes 2014 Book Award in Poetry. His second poetry collection, Seize, was published by Four Way Books in fall 2020. Dempster is editor of From Our Side of the Fence: Growing Up in America’s Concentration Camps (Kearny Street Workshop, 2001), which received a 2007 Nisei Voices Award from the National Japanese American Historical Society, and Making Home from War: Stories of Japanese American Exile and Resettlement (Heyday, 2011). He is a professor of rhetoric and language at the University of San Francisco, where he serves as Director of Administration for the Master of Arts in Asia Pacific Studies program.