for Mrs. Rosa Henson, the first Filipina woman to accept Japanese reparation payment for her suffering, as a comfort woman for Japanese soldiers in a brothel for nine months during World War II.
Monsoon country, so expectedly, wind uproots memory.
Rain is the voice of a storyteller, one without pause
like my nightly return to the hundred days of bulb light
and curtains, laughter and weight of soldiers outside, lined up.
Rain, tell me the story once again; mine, don't pause--
sounds of belts unbuckle, dawn; blood gorges to a rush downward.
Let me weigh their laughter one by one, past rooms of curtains,
where my body tilts, reaching out, upward, tied to a post
with a belt, the dawn of memory, the rush of sound:
"Tanaka--," I scream. My husband awakens, "Who is he--Tanaka?"
My body tilts upward, reaching you, untying a dream.
Tanaka, my dear, he and the darkness are one, always waiting
and awake, a whisper at night, a husband to his wife, a soldier
to me, a Japanese soldier without a choice, breathing through limbs.
Tanaka in the darkness was as dear as the wait to escape.
Tanaka in the morning was as cruel as the smell of his peers,
these Japanese whose choices were my limbs, mouth and breath.
I never told you, my dear, that every night, I leave my hands beside you
to carry the rest back to the cruelty of their smell, of their mornings:
nine months of war in this hut, my body as food, my life as nothing.
If I tell you how it was, will you hold my hands, surrender to memory?
Soon I will disappear, running naked in a hut, pursued by ropes, shadows.
Nine months: a war for the rest of my life, for the rest of nothing,
telling the rain, the wind, voices of storytellers, ones without pause,
how I disappeared to be naked as rope, naked as its shadow,
in this hut of fears, hands limp and tied, slipping into thoughts;
I told the rain to carry my voice, the wind to hold it without pause.
Now, in my monsoon country, so expectedly, wind uproots memory.
("Pantoum: The Comfort Woman" from Bino A. Realuyo's poetry collection, In Spite of Open Eyes, was selected for the Poetry Society of America's Lucille Medwick Memorial Award in 1998.)
Copyright © 1998 by Bino Realuyo. All rights reserved.