Richard Allen Taylor

I was a child and had no memory of the war.
Too young to know the word metaphor,
I knew the streets covered with snow


made me think of meringue on lemon pie.
I remember Mt. Fuji in its white cap,
drifts piled against my father’s gray Ford,


the happy face a passerby drew on the windshield.
Dad rented a house for us in Setagaya-ku.
Surprised to find the inner doors could not be


pushed or pulled, I learned to slide them
to avoid punching holes in the rice-paper panes.
My brother and I shared our red wagon


with Yoshiko and Akiho next door, and played
hopscotch, somehow overcoming the language barrier.
Soon, we established international trade,


swapped chocolate cookies for sweet rice treats.
We knew no distinction between the victor and the vanquished.
I remember the kitchen had a wooden ice box


instead of a refrigerator, because, I later learned,
most of Japan’s steel had been shot down or sunk.
The ice man came every morning with a new block


in his tongs, an ohayo gozaimasu[1] for my mother,
an arigato[2] for our business. The tin-can man
rolled a cart door to door collecting empties.


My father considered the cans worthless, refused
the man’s offer of a few yen, joined
the fellow in an elaborate excess of polite gesturing,


as if the two had reached the finals of a bowing contest.
I still remember my brother’s Christmas toy,
a clown banging cymbals when pulled across the floor.


Rough play scraped the clown’s top layer of paint.
We found a Havoline Motor Oil can underneath.
Days later, I rolled like a clown across the floor


of a lurching streetcar in Ginza, then jumped up
and ran to my mother, expecting sympathy. She chided me
for my carelessness. At the Imperial Palace grounds,


pretty girls in kimonos posed for Dad’s camera
with Tommy and me in our cowboy hats, cherry blossoms
spinning like cotton candy in the background. Later,


our landlady, Mrs. Nikawa-san, gave us candy.
Afterward, Mom caught us banging on her door
like beggars, asking for more. Much later I learned


that “san” could mean either Mr. or Mrs.
which meant we had called her “Mrs. Mrs. Nikawa”
all the months we lived there. Apples were fifty yen


on the street. I can still say konichiwa[3] in greeting,
answer the phone moshi-moshi[4], ask my brother
to “pass the butter dozo[5].” I remember we walked


the sidewalks without fear. The Emperor had guaranteed
our safety. I don’t remember any talk of Hiroshima, but
we were children then. We had no memory of the war.


[1] good morning (polite form)
[2] thank you
[3] good afternoon
[4] hello (when answering phone, very informal)
[5] please