(Poets and Poetry in America)

The recurring themes in David Mura’s poems are alienation, racism experienced by minorities (particularly by Japanese Americans), the betrayal of the Issei (first-generation Japanese Americans) by the United States government, life in the internment camps, and the overreaching power of the loss of sexual identity. The collections After We Lost Our Way and The Colors of Desire reveal his preoccupation with these themes.

After We Lost Our Way

After We Lost Our Way has four sections. The first section, composed of ten poems, deals with Mura’s parents, grandparents, the survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, life in U.S. internment camps, and the manner in which Japanese Americans endured the hardships and indignities in silence. The second section is about Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975), an Italian writer and director persecuted because of his sexual orientation and decadent ways. Sections 3 and 4, consisting of twelve poems, return to personal themes again.

Two poems, “These Years Are Obscure, Their Chronicle Uncertain” and “Hope Without Hope,” touch on Mura’s purpose in writing. In the first poem, he talks of the oppressed of the world and how their history is often forgotten. His role, he believes, is to keep the memory of the past alive. The second poem recognizes the seeming futility of these efforts to capture the truth as “History rolls on, lie by lie.” Many of the poems in this book attempt to record the forgotten segments in the lives of Japanese Americans.

“Grandfather and Grandmother in Love” and “Suite for Grandfather and Grandmother Uyemura: Relocation” capture the imagined serene life of Mura’s grandparents before the “betrayal.” Though burdened by “blight and bad debts,” otoo-san and okaa-san (grandfather and grandmother) manage to maintain their loving relationship. “The Hibakusha’s Letter” has a survivor of the atomic bomb paint her bleak life. She mourns a world gone and her inability to conceive, yet finds occasional moments of happiness. “Letters from Poston Relocation Camp,” addressed to a sister in Tokyo, dwells on the desolate life in the camps, the loss of the speaker’s greenhouse and the home she was forced to leave, and a reference to a dream foreshadowing the aftermath of the atomic bomb.

Another poem, “An Argument: On 1942,” depicts the mother’s refusal to talk about her life in the relocation camps, dismissing it as something that needs to be forgotten: “it was so long ago—how useless it seems. . . .” She understands the need of her writer son to probe but reiterates her stand: “why can’t you glean/ how far we’ve come.” “A Nisei Picnic: From an Album” pictures the uncle who was wounded in the war and came back to find that he could not rent an apartment. The speaker finds it baffling that the family still would not talk about their camp experiences and fall back on the philosophy expressed in the saying Shikatta ga nai (it cannot be helped).

All these poems use several poetic forms ranging from free verse to blank verse, liberal use of alliteration and assonance, and often internal rhymes. Variations of the length of lines enable Mura to convey thoughts briskly or in a slow, meditative tone.

The Colors of Desire

Fifteen poems in The Colors of Desire are primarily about Mura’s struggle to accept his heritage, and seven of these depict his infidelities and obsessions. Mura does not spare himself and paints his life, his love affairs, and his addiction to pornography with stark, almost brutal honesty. One of the most effective techniques he employs is the juxtaposition of disparate scenes.

In the title poem, “The Colors of Desire,” he begins with a depiction of “Photograph of a Lynching (circa 1930).” The scene melds into his father’s riding the bus on a weekend pass from his internment camp in Arkansas. He is invited to sit in the front; at the same time, the African Americans in the back ask him to join them. This subtle juxtaposition of the two incidents suggests more than the words reveal. By allowing an Asian man to...

(The entire section is 1721 words.)