ROBERT A. REES

Visiting Professor & Director of Mormon Studies, GTU

 
 

Heart Mountain (Wyoming Relocation Camp, 1942)

At the Japanese American National Museum

a pile of stones

no bigger than my thumb, each

with a single kanji,

found buried at Heart Mountain.

Each stone names something of the world—

horse, river, flower, snow,

kimono, sword, blossom, death—

piled like a mountain

in a bonsai landscape.


No one knows why.


I see her there walking the fence

and empty river bed that runs

through the camp. She bends or squats

to pick up stones,

choosing each

before placing it in her pocket. 

As she walks, she thinks of her son

buried in France,

her husband sick in the barracks

with no medicine, her home in Fresno

inhabited by strangers, and her daughter

whose dreams lie dead along the San Joaquin.


She dreams herself of a village outside Kyoto,

the peonies in her father’s garden, and

plum blossoms on Mt. Fuji.

She fears she will go mad here

where summer dust blows through the walls

and in winter no fire can keep them warm.


At night in the tarpaper rooms

where they are prisoners, she

names the world and its parts—

earth, apple, jade, moon,

sun, dog, table, heaven.


Each day she picks up new stones.

 

Karbala

My Muslim student:

among

twenty million

flocking to

the Valley of Paradise:

 “I felt like I was

Walking on sky.”​

 

Easter

My grandson, ten,

hates the rain,

as he does this Sunday morning

when dark clouds bring the sky down.

He announces he is not going to church:

“I’m anti-Christian.”

His mom says,

“Nevertheless, get dressed.

It’s Easter.”

“You know I don’t believe

all that gobbledygook,”

he replies.

“Don’t forget to tie your shoes,”
she says.


At church I see him play

with the baby

in the next row then snuggle

against his mother,

solid as faith.


In the foyer following church he

bows to touch the face of a

Down’s Syndrome child

with exquisite echoing

of her small slow vowels.


On the way home,

we see a dead raccoon.

He asks to stop

so we can bury it.

He’s quiet until we reach home then says,


“I hope it gets resurrected.”

 

Morgenstern

I am given an identification card:

“David Morgenstern,

born in Kaluszyn, Poland, 1935,”

the year of my birth.

Inside, the photo of a boy of four or five

with angelic face and sad eyes.

It is the only image of him

that survives.


It says, “For the dead and the living

we must bear witness.”


In a few weeks we will sing Bach’s

Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern

for our Christmas program.

For this unfortunate boy, there was no mercy

beaming from afar on the machinery of extermination,

no hosts of heaven rejoicing in the dark Polish forests.


On this December day I carry his image,

bearing it though the annals of the unbearable,

witnessing to the living and the dead

that this David was once a morning star

whose brief light fell into the silence of history. 


Carrying his photo like an emblem of the Eucharist,

I remember him, as I remember that

Son of David nailed to tree whose star

still shines over the bent world and whose heart

still breaks, for this forgotten boy and for all of Rachel’s

children whose six-pointed stars

lie scattered among the forgotten fields of memory.