Welcome, W. Todd Kaneko!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired during 2018. These manuscripts came to us through our open reading periods. Today we bring you W. Todd Kaneko, author of the poetry collection This is How the Bone Sings, which will be published in the summer of 2020.
Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our November Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies) and translations from German. Also, our Big Moose Prize for the novel is currently open to early bird submissions.

The Author

Todd Kaneko is the author of The Dead Wrestler Elegies (Curbside Splendor, 2014), and is co-author with Amorak Huey of Poetry: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology (Bloomsbury Academic, 2018). His poems and prose can be seen in The Normal School, Barrelhouse, SmokeLong Quarterly, Superstition Review, The Margins, The Rumpus, New Poetry from the Midwest 2017, Best Small Fictions 2017 and 2018, and many other places. A Kundiman fellow, he is co-editor of the online literary magazine Waxwing and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan where he teaches creative writing at Grand Valley State University.


On writing This is How the Bone Sings

This Is How the Bone Sings is a book about silence. These poems are about my family’s incarceration at Minidoka, the concentration camp built in Idaho for Japanese Americans during World War II. The sense of shame and degradation surrounding that period is something that many Japanese American families like mine don’t talk about. Yet as much as we didn’t talk about camp, sometimes I feel like camp might really be all we were ever talking about. And now that my father and his parents have passed, these poems are really the only conversation we can have about camp anymore.
I began writing these poems well over ten years ago as I began trying to figure out how to write about silence, how to fill that silence, and how to capture it in all its weird awfulness. I started writing them for myself, and then found myself writing them for my father and grandparents. And I am still writing them for my son, who will one day discover his own relationship to camp.


My favorite thing is space, stars shivering
as the darkness gathers in silent plumes
over our heads. Tonight, my father ignites
the sky to let us know where we are
all headed one day—we live together
on the ground, whether or not we like it
when the landscape is littered with dead birds,
with beautiful carcasses that can’t recall
how it feels to be close to Heaven. Tonight,
there are other things in the sky, and a poem
is a thing I make in the dark as my son plays
at sleeping, while he dreams of jumping
on the moon, so far from where we live
in America. Once we lived in a concentration
camp in Idaho, a distant memory when it was
a fire in my father’s chest, more distant
now that it burns in mine. Once, we sang
like wolves out in the snow, faces
turned up at the constellations and hoping
someone out there understands and howls back
and God, that great silence reverberates
through all of us. Tonight, my father sings
no longer, but where there is fire, there is fire.
The heat is my father’s. The smoke is mine.
And when my son looks up at the sky,
he will notice how small everything looks
from far away—a bomb is a flicker of light,
then a flurry of dust, then darkness.
This poem was first published in Heavy Feather Review.
The first rule in talking about camp is
we do not talk about camp.
Minidoka is a Lakota word for water.
Relocation is a polite way of talking
about internment, camp a fancy
word for prison. Minidoka.
The cage is the skeleton for grief, grief
the mantle worn by shame, shame the fuel
for a tone-deaf heart.
They say this is where the witch burned,
where the ogre lost his heart. Sing a real song
for imaginary creatures. Keep it simple
so the ghosts can sing along.
Men bruised by sticks.
Men pummeled by stones.
Men disintegrated by wind.
Men gashed to pieces by wild animals.
Men shredded by flights of dark birds.
Men evaporating into morning.
What turns kings into beasts, princesses
into crones hungry for dusk? How do we lose
our ancestors still living in barren houses
next door? What do horses dream about,
buttressed by the rigor mortis of night?
Remember: we do not talk about camp.
The second rule: there are no trick questions,
only bear traps poised silent in hope
that someone will talk about camp.
The cage houses the heart of the ogre,
the ogre the glamor bewitching
the wilderness. We live at the fringe
of awful desire, that ragged edge of twilight
where the ocean devours the shore.
Remember the cage.
They say those ruins are nearly swallowed
by the Idaho scrubland. I’ve seen ruins
posing as old men on bar stools, women
cloaked in thorns and sharks’ teeth.
We do not talk about ruins.
Men who smoke in restaurants.
Men who try to quit smoking.
Men who try to quit smoking for their children.
Men who smoke only when drinking.
Men who smoke in cars with the windows up.
Men who smoke in secret places.
Men who never knew they were on fire.
The cage shelters us from despair, despair
the ocean lapping at our knees, fear the eels
wriggling electric on the incoming tide.
The cage holds everything we do not talk about.
Third rule: Do not speak—listen to buzzards
pasted against every sunset, to alley cats
yowling lonesome in the glow of night.
That is a soliloquy of ruin. This is
the hush of mushrooms on fallen trees.
Stories are tiny prisons built to house
our secrets. We live in cages still.
My grandmother’s legs remain bound
by barbed wire. My grandfather’s tongue lay
caked in dust. They are both dead.
It was goddamn camp—we can’t talk about it.
This poem was first published in Bellingham Review.