The Poem

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 504

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“Relocation,” a poem of forty-seven lines, has four major sections separated by asterisks. Within each major section are three four-line stanzas, with the exception of the first section, which has only two stanzas, and an italicized haiku that concludes the final section. The poem’s dedication reads, “for Grandfather Uyemura,” the central character in the poem. It is his several “relocations” that the poem describes. The physical removals from Japan to America, within America, and back to Japan are sometimes voluntary and sometimes coerced, and they result in either exhilaration and freedom or depression and oppression.

David Mura uses the format of the poem to deliver a sketchy biography of his grandfather, recounting the most significant events in his grandfather’s adult life. The poem also indirectly traces the emotions with which Mura’s grandfather responds to those life experiences and, even more indirectly, Mura’s own emotional reactions to those events that predate his own birth.

The first section begins with an expository stanza that makes reference to an Asian custom prevalent around the 1920’s. Asian men who had immigrated to America to seek their fortunes would send to their home countries a picture of themselves as a way of advertising for a bride of the same ethnic background. They would pay the one-way passage to America of any eligible woman who would be lured across the ocean by the picture and promise of marriage. Because the couple would not have previously met, the woman thus based her entire future happiness on the merit of a snapshot, and there were often unpleasant surprises at the dock if the man had misrepresented himself. Grandfather Uyemura, however, was so handsome that he did not hide behind a picture but returned to Japan in person to claim a bride. He was able to sail back to America with his arms around his chosen mate.

In section 2, Mura recounts his grandparents’ success in establishing a happy life in their new country. Through industry and hard work, Grandfather Uyemura has bought a greenhouse where he grows orchids and roses. He also has enjoyed a certain amount of luck in the gambling houses.

The mood shifts away from happiness and good fortune in section 3, however. World War II breaks out, and the Japanese people living in America, including Grandfather and Grandmother Uyemura, are herded by the government into various “relocation camps” for the duration of the war. Instead of their pleasant home and greenhouse, the couple now lives with other Japanese Americans in barracks surrounded by guards and barbed wire. Grandfather Uyemura is forced to plow fields and eat meals in a common mess hall with his wife.

The war has ended for some time by the final section, and the couple has a son whom they have named Kitsugi. He, however, adopts American ways with a new name—Tom—and a new religion—Christianity—which confuses and disappoints Grandfather Uyemura, a Buddhist. When his wife dies, Grandfather Uyemura returns to Tokyo and composes haiku in his old age.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 535

Although all stanzas but the final haiku have a consistent number of lines that are roughly the same length, the poem breaks from conventional form because the lines do not rhyme. Grandfather Uyemura himself breaks from tradition in that he returns to Japan in person rather than trusting a snapshot to deliver a life partner to him.

His early adult life is lucky. His exuberance and good fortune are shown in the shining chrome of his Packard, at which he proudly beams. There is also an invincibility evident in the second stanza: After a lucky night at gambling, he greets even the thorns on the roses. He will not let hurtful things bother him. His imprisonment in the relocation camps with other Japanese does not defeat the spirits of either him or his wife. Their strength is that they have each other—for companionship and love—and their heritage.

At dinner, Grandfather Uyemura folds an origami crane out of a napkin, to the amusement and rapture of his wife. Besides signifying flight or freedom of spirit as any bird imagery would do, the crane has long symbolized for cultures ranging from China to the Mediterranean three other qualities: justice, longevity, and the good and diligent soul. The poem shows that Grandfather Uyemura possesses all three of those traits. Though treated with gross injustice, he unquestioningly does what he is ordered to do; he outlives his wife; and he is a good person who works hard. In Japanese, the name he has chosen for his son means “prince of birds.”

An important poetic device that Mura uses is ambiguously purposeful enjambment (when the grammatical, logical, and syntactical sense of a poetic line both continues into the next line and also gains an additional meaning by pausing at the end of the first line). The first occurrence of this device is in lines 9 and 10. If one reads without pause to the first comma, the main idea is that Grandfather Uyemura was able to purchase his greenhouse through hard word and diligent saving. If the reader pauses instead at the end of line 9, the word “field” is sensed as a noun of location rather than an adjective. Imagining Grandfather Uyemura’s greenhouse “on a field” emphasizes the concept of land that is important to the poem—specifically, the new land of America that challenges such immigrants as Grandfather Uyemura.

Another instance of enjambment occurs in the final four-line stanza in lines 42 to 44. At this point, Grandfather Uyemura’s defiance has become resignation; his wife has died, his son seems more American than Japanese, and he himself is returning to Japan. If these lines are read with attention to the commas—not pausing at the ends of the lines—the picture that evolves is of Grandfather Uyemura, thin and cranelike, sitting in a chair and writing poetry. If, instead, the reader pauses at the end of line 43 and considers “spent” as an adjective rather than as a transitive verb, the implication is that old Grandfather Uyemura is himself spent, defeated by an unjust life in his new country. From such a stance, though, poetry finally emerges, and such a voice signifies a spiritual strength despite an emaciated physical body.