First published in Contemporary Haibun Online 18:3, December 2022. Originally written in March of 2022 with a revised poem in September of 2022.       +

Every year my wife’s mother calls from Japan to remind us to put up our Emperor dolls for Girls’ Day. “The dolls will be sad and lonely if they stay in their boxes,” she says. These heirloom hina dolls were Baba’s gift to her granddaughter, our daughter Sarah, whose Japanese middle name is Sakura. Sarah loves anime, manga, cosplay, and J-pop, and speaks of past visits to Japan and her grandparents with excitement, often saying how much she’d like to visit Akihabara and the Ghibli Museum on our next trip. So, for March 3 every year we take the boxes down from the closet and Sarah-chan patiently assembles her dolls on a red furoshiki cloth set atop the piano, with each doll in its traditional position. She unpacks each doll with a solemn seriousness, yet she smiles now and then in the hour it takes to complete the display. Despite consulting a drawing that shows the customary placements of each doll, she can’t read the Japanese and sometimes varies their positions to fit her creative whims, even while retaining a symmetrical formal arrangement that seems necessary for an Emperor and Empress. The display stays up for a month as a reminder of our daughter’s Japanese heritage and lineage. The Emperor and Empress and all their accompanying courtiers, lords, ministers, musicians, drums, lanterns, and tables look regal in front of a gleaming byōbu or gold screen, and we take pictures of Sarah with her dolls to send to Baba. For these pictures my teenager’s smile always comes easily.


     no phone call

     a month after her death

     leafless ginkgo