Person with 1/8th Japanese Ancestry Interrogates Yugen, ending in seven haiku for the other 7/8ths

Yugen – an important tenet of traditional Japanese aesthetics. When you have so little you have to imagine it. As Zeami Motokiyo says, “To watch the sun sink behind a flower clad hill.”

Imagine this, my Japanese great-grandfather occupies my Taiwanese great-grandmother’s homeland. Imagine this, I unshovel both their graves for this story but don’t know what is written across their headstones.

There are things I do not have to imagine. A shed uniform and sheathed tongue. I know that there was a lie that became a shield that became a homeland locked behind a fortress. I know that there must be a Japanese word for homeland.

My great grandfather could have been the jagged dusk of a sword but I like to imagine him soft as a cherry blossom. I like to imagine he held my great grandmother, said, “My island has choked your island on every shore, but look here, I undress myself into open ocean.”

They name my grandmother Tsai Hsia, a Chinese name, meaning, the northern lights, clouds brightly coloured by the sun, To watch the sun sink behind a flower clad hill. I know the teeth of a blade when I feel them. With her in my blood, Japan becomes land of the setting sun.

A generation and another and another. How do you mourn the sand that has already slipped through the fingers. I take a fine toothed comb to my chromosomes and find an impossible task. I parse the white from the black from the asian and then there is no me left to do the work of a further splitting.

There, in a pile, a qipao from Taiwan, Japanese chopsticks, haw flakes melted on my tongue, my father’s Japanese saw, soy sauce sliced across rice, the orient and a widening jaw. They ask “What kind of Asian?” and both islands sink below the ocean of my blood, a second sun sinking behind a second flower clad hill and then they are gone.

Yugen –               tradition

Japan           you    imagine it

sink behind a         hill

Taiwan            mother            land.

unshovel            grave            his story

written across            stones.

do not            imagine

uniform            sheath shield            fortress.

there must be            homeland.

dusk soft as       blossom.

island       choked your            every            self

into open ocean.

clouds            coloured by       sun,

sink            the teeth of a blade            in

my blood,            setting sun.

another            other.

How do you mourn            chromosomes?

impossible.      me      splitting.

There, in a pile            rice

a       jaw      ask      “Asian?” and both

sink       sinking            and       gone


Em Dial is a queer, triracial, chronically ill poet and educator born and raised in the Bay Area, California. Winner of the 2019 Mary C. Mohr Poetry Award and 2018 Hoefer Prize, their work has also appeared on the final stages of the 2017 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational and 2019 Feminine Empowerment Movement Slam. She is an alum of the Stanford Spoken Word Collective and the Youth Speaks Artist Corps.