Aozora Brockman, Memory of a Girl
Backbone Press, 2016. 48 pages
Reviewed by Naoko Fujimoto
For people of Japanese descent, it may be unavoidable to face the historical fact of World War II. Its repercussions are sunk deeply in Japan’s consciousness, and indeed, in the very landscape itself. Occasionally, people still find unexploded shells in construction sites. War memorials are held every summer, especially in Okinawa, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. Unresolved peace issues dating back to the war remain unresolved between Japan and other Asian countries.
In her debut chapbook, Aozora Brockman, who was raised on a farm in central Illinois by a Japanese mother and an American father, writes about World War II from the point of view of these two identities.
…“You evil people attacked us—remember Pearl
As I, screeching red, spat back:
“Remember the atomic bombs?” …
“If you hate America so much,
why don’t you go back to Japan?”
I fought, crackling
like butter on a hotplate,
tongue a leap of oil…
When I first read this poem, “An Essay on Tolerance,” my heart dropped. The poem is an honest scream from a young Japanese-American after her first history class about the war. The feeling may apply to other international descendants in America with current global issues. I want to believe this is why we study history: to learn different perspectives so as not to repeat the same mistakes. The poem continues,
History is our selective memory
that blacks out the bloodshed…
…Once, over the wide ocean Obāchan
sent me a red, Hello Kitty case
with five perfect, matching pencils.
I fell in love with the big eyes,
that adorable, oversized bow,
and longed to be that cute.
And even now I slip back into that self
until I remember that to be
Hello Kitty is to have
Some might consider the Hello Kitty character as a metaphor for the Japanese female. In “Memory of a Girl,” Brockman revises that metaphor by speaking clearly and fiercely from her soul. In so doing, she has drawn a mouth on the Hello Kitty visage, giving her a compelling voice for our times.
Naoko Fujimoto was born and raised in Nagoya, Japan. She was an exchange student and received a B.A. and M.A. from Indiana University. Her forthcoming poetry collections are Mother Said, I Want Your Pain, winner of the Shared Dream Immigrant Contest by Backbone Press (spring, 2018), Where I Was Born, winner of the editor's choice by Willow Books (spring, 2019), and Glyph:Graphic Poetry=Trans. Sensory by Tupelo Press (winter, 2020). She is an editor and fellow at RHINO.