Yellow Light

by Garrett Kaoru Hongo

Start Free Trial


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated June 28, 2024.


Garrett Kaoru Hongo’s “Yellow Light” is the titular opening poem in his first book of poetry, published in 1982. Born in Hawaii to third-generation Japanese-American parents and raised in Los Angeles, much of Hongo’s poetry comments on his experience as an Asian American. Drawing on this experience, he delves into the lives and sociopolitical issues surrounding minorities in the United States.


The first stanza begins with a woman holding an old, worn-out leather purse over one shoulder and a bag of collected dinner ingredients over the other. She has gathered her groceries from different specialty food retailers around the city. She holds spinach from Japanese Town, mackerel from a Spanish grocer, and bread from an iconic Los Angeles bakery in her grocery bag. She steps off of a loud bus at the intersection of Olympic Boulevard and Figueroa Street (referred to as “Olympic and Fig” in the poem) in Los Angeles, California.

Once off the bus, the woman begins the three-block walk up the street towards her apartment. She passes groups of different races in the neighborhood segregated from one another. On her way, she notices a group of Japanese children playing war, young Chicanas chalking a hopscotch course on the sidewalk, and the wife of the Korean grocer strolling around the “Hawaiian apartments.” The sounds of parents yelling at children and static noise from television sets can be heard from the apartment building as dinnertime begins.

Although the poem is written in the third person, the second stanza drops into what can be assumed to be the woman’s point of view as she ruminates about springtime in the city. If it was late spring, the scent of blooming jacaranda and hydrangeas flowers would defeat the robust scent of city smog. Wisteria in a neighbor’s yard would unravel its long purple flowers, and flying insects would land on the monkey flowers that grow through chain-link fences.

The third stanza returns to the poem’s present tense of fall in Los Angeles. It is a sweltering hot October dusk. It gets dark earlier this time of year, and the fluorescent lights from businesses across the city trump the pale yellow lighting from people’s apartment windows.

In the fourth stanza, the woman arrives at her apartment building. She has dinner on her mind as “her high heels [click] like kitchen knives” while she climbs the two flights of stairs to apartment 201-B. She sets down the food bag in front of her door and rifles through her overstuffed leather purse to find her keys.

In the final stanza, the moon breaks through the branches of eucalyptus trees on the other side of the street and sprays a bright, yellow light over “everything in sight.” Like the poem, the moon illuminates the lifestyles and struggles of minorities in this Los Angeles neighborhood.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access