I Speak of the City: Lawson Fusao Inada


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Sometimes I forget why I write poems.  Sometimes I think it’s to be able to read out loud, for a little bit of spotlight.  Sometimes I think it’s to be a voice, to be heard in a room I was never supposed to enter.  Sometimes, I think it’s to become a place, to go back and forward in time–imagine the stories of my different homes or reimagine this house around me.

I forget that poetry is really about listening, about listening very intently so when you do reach the rooms you were told you weren’t able to access, you can actually bring back something very intimate and private.  I forget that a voice is nothing if there is no one to hear it and we can only be heard if we take time to listen.  I forget that the only reason I can tell the story of place is because I’ve listened to things like the metal click that goes off inside the base of an intersection light, the way it turns like the second-hand on a clock right before the light changes green.  How that click is much harder than the soft click from when the light turns to yellow.  And that when the lights goes red, everything stops: the clicks, the traffic, the sense of safety and something else takes over.

I’m only just remembering this after I read through this wonderful Inada poem.  If anyone can imagine and reimagine a place in the same line, then it’s Inada.  A true Fresno poet, he is able to inhabit the dust of Fresno’s air–equal parts land and industry–and sculpt that dust into its own place.  Maybe that’s why this particular City poem speaks so much to me because its not about his Fresno but Sacramento.  An entirely different city from Fresno but one that the poet can be see better for having known it from far away.  Maybe that’s why the poet sees things in it no one else can see.  Or it might just be easier to listen from a distance.

The Grand Silos of the Sacramento

From a distance, at night, they seem to be

industries–all lit up but not on the map;

or, in this scientific age, they could be

installations for launching rocket ships–

so solid, and with such security are they…

Ah, but up close, by the light of the day,

we see, not “pads” but actual paddies–

for these are simply silos in ricefields,

structures to hold the harvested grain.

Still, they’re the tallest thing around,

and, by night or day, you’d have to say

they’re ample for what they do: storage.

And, if you amble around from your car,

you can lean up against one in the sun,

feeling warmth on your cheek as you spread

out your arms, holding on to the whole world

around you, to the shores of other lands

where the laborers launched their lives

to arrive and plant and harvest this grain

of history–as you hold and look, look

up, up, up, and whisper: “Grandfather!”


©Lawson Fusao Indada from Drawing the Line: Poems

Author: Oscar Bermeo

Born in Ecuador and raised in the Bronx, Oscar Bermeo is the author of the chapbooks Anywhere Avenue, Palimpsest, Heaven Below, and To the Break of Dawn. He lives and works in Oakland, CA.

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