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Ballet with Kimono and Underthings, a poem by Doris Lynch

Ballet with Kimono and Underthings

After a Photo by Dorothea Lange: “Wash-Day 40 Hours Before Evacuation of Persons of  Japanese Ancestry from the Farming Community"

They gave us only two days to pack and store

or give away our valuables, to notify bosses 

and bill collectors, to drape our furniture 

into animal shapes, to lock our houses 

and apartments. They urged us to wash laundry 

first, warning us of dusty conditions at Manzanar.  

Deep in the armoire’s darkness, I shrouded 

our Sunday best.  Next, I washed the everyday things—

stirring with a pole in the sixteen-gallon wooden pail, 

scrubbing stains with a bristle brush, the remnant bar of Ivory.  

Through tears, I hung on the line my husband’s shirts 

and pants, my oldest kimono, two skirts, a half-slip,

a few underthings. Though there was much to do--scrub floors, 

give away perishables, feed and release the cats, 

I found myself twirling by the irrigation ditch 

watching my blue and gladiola-flowered kimono, 

and my husband’s checkered shirt buck in the wind. 

In the distance the grove’s oranges shone celebratory. 

My feet kicked up dust clouds that rose and floated 

in a gold patina toward the hills, while a heavy 

citrus scent hung over everything. The dancing, the burnished 

clouds of loose soil, the clothes refusing to stay still

lulled me into thinking that I was free also, to trace 

the canal by the highway and escape to Oakland 

or San Jose, for surely this official notice was a cruel joke,

a legal missive gone terribly astray.

Doris Lynch’s poetry collection Swimming to Alaska was published by Bottom Dog Press in fall, 2023. Meteor Hound, a book of her haibun, also came out last year. In December, she was nominated for both a Pushcart Prize and a Touchstone Award for Individual Haibun.