In microcosm, Sarah’s poem tells much of the tale of our family. Her great-grandparents on her father’s side of the family settled on the west coast of Canada after sailing across the ocean from Japan shortly after the turn of the 20th century only to experience racial discrimination before, during, and after the Second World War.
Her grandparents and great grandparents on her mother’s side of the family were Americans of German and Finnish ancestry. Sarah’s mother came to Canada during the exodus of many Americans after the race riots of the late sixties and the war in Vietnam. – Mark Nakamura
the oceans we carry
my grandmother taught me to beat sugar
into butter until light and fluffy;
next the egg; next
baking teaches order, my grandmother
my grandmother taught me
to measure precisely,
to level each cup with a knife.
no margin for the human, my grandmother
only the alchemy of parts
my grandmother talked of Vancouver,
once – sat me down
on my mother’s favorite chair, talked
of the war and the sea.
thirteen years old in my parent’s parlour,
so far from the ocean we carry inside.
the first time i can remember hearing
dry ingredients last – cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger.
powder for rising, clove for warmth,
salt to awaken the sweet.
measure into 3 cups flour, combine
baking is a magic act, my grandmother
most of my grandmother’s story
i know from my father,
know it in parts
i know she escaped the camps
her brothers didn’t.
i know a kitchen shaped our lives.
my grandmother’s immaculate recipe cards kept
lists of ingredients, gave
know the rules by heart,
my grandmother never said.
its jagged edge
smooth on my grandmother’s tongue;
worn like a pebble
by each patient wave
still cradled in her mouth.
yet carried still
on that landlocked current,
baked into mouthfuls made
in the kitchen of a school in st. thomas,
in the kitchen of a house in toronto,
in every kitchen made home.
another magic trick: snap a word in half
and you can turn it on itself,
keep a thousand small cuts open
to the brine.
"the oceans we carry" was first published, in a slightly altered form, in Looseleaf Magazine, vol 4."