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,
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.
My Muslim student:
the Valley of Paradise:
“I felt like I was
Walking on sky.”
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:
His mom says,
“Nevertheless, get dressed.
“You know I don’t believe
all that gobbledygook,”
“Don’t forget to tie your shoes,”
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.”
I am given an identification card:
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
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.