By Patricia J. Machmiller
Poems by Ann Muto
Japanese American Museum of San Jose
Our parents hid
Their history from us
They didn’t want us to lose our way
In bitterness or anger
Ann Muto was born in the internment camp of Poston, Arizona in 1944. In her book of poems, Open Passage, she explores the experience of being a child of internees—the legacy of the sad and shameful time when the United States interned thousands of Japanese Americans throughout the American West. In her poems Muto tries to come to terms with the effects that traumatized her parents, an experience about which they never spoke, but which forever changed them, and in the process, was handed down to their children in vague, yet tangible, forms.
My sorrow is that we never talked:
How it was for her,
How it was for me.
– from “Regret”
As an adult coming to the knowledge of the internment camps, Muto tries to reach through the wall of silence by imagining her mother’s experience:
Repetitive rows of barracks engulfed
My mother’s view.
Swirling sand stifled her breath.
Pride spiraled into shame
She hated who she was, what she was—
Hers, the face of the enemy.
– from “Lost in the Desert”
Her poems expand to incorporate Muto’s own passions, a love of the outdoors and the natural world.
Torrents of water
Thundering thousands of feet
Rumble into the day,
The roar a room around me.
– from “Yosemite Falls”
In her writing her exploration of the natural world parallels her exploration of the interior life—that of her parents and her own, and in a startling way the one becomes a metaphor for the other. One can imagine being immersed in the roar of the Yosemite Falls in contrast to the feeling of being surrounded by the silence of her parents. Or could it be a similar experience? In “Yosemite Aberration” she examines the past practices of tourists and park officials in their dealings with bears. She addresses the bear with this admission of human fallibility:
Our myopic ignorance
Seduced you to seek
Tasty tidbits in cars and cabins
Forced us to relocate you . . .
Muto’s parents succeeded in their efforts to keep her free of “bitterness or anger.” In these poems Muto shows us her struggle to comprehend her parents’ history and her own, shares with us her confusion and sense of bewilderment, and offers some of the insights she has gained on this journey into the past.
We learn to release
And listen for
The rhythm of our souls.
– from “Dance of Life”
Patricia Machmiller received the “Best Memoir” for 2010 by the Bay Area Independent Publishers’ Association for her book Autumn Loneliness: The Letters of Kiyoshi & Kiyoko Tokutomi in 2010.