Richard Oyama’s work has appeared in Premonitions: The Kaya Anthology of New Asian North American Poetry, The Nuyorasian Anthology, Breaking Silence, Dissident Song, A Gift of Tongues, Malpais Review, Mas Tequila Review and other literary journals. The Country They Know (Neuma Books 2005) is his first collection of poetry. Oyama taught at California College of Arts in Oakland, University of California at Berkeley and University of New Mexico. His first novel, A Riot Goin’ On, is forthcoming.
Kaoru Muramatsu Sees an Exploding Rose in Spanish Harlem
For Patricia Spears Jones
The glass blew out like an a-bomb. I
owned 1644 Park where Absolute Piano was.
Next door was our tuner, our mover, our finishers.
One of my workers was saved by the plague of debris
under the broken pianos. My parents sold Hondas
in Japan but I came to study art in Manhattan. I met
Carl. The building was part of the settlement.
East Harlem was so different. It was like the UN—
Venezuelan, Greek, Russian. Next door was
the Spanish Christian Church that used
to be Puerto Rican, now it’s Mexican.
Apartments were 1/2BR railroad flats.
The Metro-North shook windows at night.
The neighborhood was terrible for years, then
housing complexes sprung up like burdock root.
Nearby was Hot Bread Kitchen. I bought
a Bialy al Barrio for lunch. After Sunday
service the church threw a potluck. We
tramped down to the basement. There was a folding table
with a floral-patterned oilcloth and plates
of pollo asado, yellow rice, refried beans, glass jugs of
horchata and tamarindo. Someone brought a tres leches cake.
It was dolorous as bells. They were blood I had
never met. Everybody called me
señora, mamí. Upper rooms were saved
for congregants and the poor. They say
the cast-iron pipes were 100 years old. It may’ve
been a lid of frost that trapped and moved the gas
sideways. Even a spark could blow. The first tenement
folded like an accordion, the second a row of dominoes.
There’s a big sinkhole like a black lake.
Our organ struck grace notes behind the choir. Now
the street’s an assemblage of warped steel, wood, brick
by Rauschenberg. Rosaura was a line cook at Triomphe
in the Iroquois Hotel, Griselda a security clerk.
Rosaura’s mother was born in Puebla. In August I
ought to dance their spirits by the river at Obon, neh
and plant marigolds in the rubble in October. This
was the same time the transponder on Flight 370
stopped 40 minutes over the Indian Ocean.