Topaz by Brian Komei Dempster is the winner of the 2014 15 Bytes Book Award in Poetry.
Brian Komei Dempster
Topaz, Brian Komei Dempster’s debut poetry collection, examines the experiences of a Japanese American family separated and incarcerated in American World War II prison camps. This volume delves into the lasting intergenerational impact of imprisonment and breaks a cultural legacy of silence. Through the fractured lenses of past and present, personal and collective, the speaker seeks to piece together the facets of his own identity and to shed light on a buried history.
“Storm Breaks,” from Topaz:
Every war begins somewhere. The boundaries are me: my face. smile. language. my job. No matter what I did your father thought I was crossing him. Between your apartment and mine, we stood a breath apart, your mouth a border shutting out gentler words. I grabbed you by the T-shirt like a bag of rice, you pushed me back, a ball of heat enveloping us. When a forest ignites, balding the hills, who lit the match, who flung it into the bed of pine needles? Out the accusations came, armed like soldiers barring the way, backing me into your corner, You never bring flowers to the house. You haven't even learned to pronounce my parents' names. You don't ever bow and speak to my father in Korean. And I, half-Japanese, barely able to speak the first language of my own mother, Fuck no, I don't understand. I kicked over my bottle of Old English, making shards and gold foam. Not you. Not your father. Cicada hum through razed fields. Fists filled electric from our earlier lovemaking. Clouds varicosed with lightning, close to releasing. I want him to say my name, speak to me in English. I ignored the siren's tornado warning. When your collar ripped, I held on. Your face divided, one half in lamplight, the other fluttering with diamond-shadows of elm leaves. Over forty years ago. In Korea. A woman held down. Her dress pulled up. A Japanese soldier inside. The soles of our shoes are sticky with liquor, crunching on broken glass. What could I do? A great aunt. A grandmother. Your father's mother? You wouldn't tell me. The siren's next blare. My chest tightened. I looked down at our feet, the tips of our shoes touched, squashing the tuft of grass sprouting from the sidewalk's jagged fault. Where was I? Who told your father? Did he tell you? A man's grunts, a woman's screams. Static claws the air, sounds become foreign. Sheaves of barley, frozen soil. Rain falls into asphalt's divide, our black hair damp, cicadas quieted. Beneath elms, your ribs' gentle quaking, skies webbing us with tangled light. When I look back through storm-fire, we are huddled close, smoldering.