THE GOLD KIMONO
She brought it home from Japan after the war,
after the Occupation. She’d been an army nurse
there, in Yokohama, in the former Swedish
consulate pressed into service as a hospital,
its huge rooms, designed for diplomatic
entertaining, turned into wards.
I grew up on her war stories. Dances
at the officers’ club – all the nurses were officers
and not supposed to date enlisted men.
How she was dancing at the officers’ club
in Mindinao when the band suddenly stopped
playing and a general announced
the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Then they went to Japan, where the nurses and WACs
weren’t allowed to go out without a man.
But still she made it sound like a party.
She laughed when she told me about a pilot boyfriend
who took her up in a little plane to buzz
the farmers in their rice paddies.
She brought home souvenirs, elaborately
carved and painted mahogany shower shoes
from the Philippines, whole jungle villages
incised into their wedge heels.
I wore them to play dress-up.
I didn’t know about the kimono.
She gave it to her mother, who put it away
in a cedar chest because it had no obi.
Long years after Grandma died, she gave it to me,
and I put it in my own cedar chest
Years after that she told me how she got it,
how her soldier boyfriend asked her if she’d like one.
They were all buying them for their wives
or mothers or sweethearts, and she let him choose one for her,
muted shades of purple silk with ivory streaks
like ripples on water, and chrysanthemums,
purple, gold, and ivory, floating on the water.
People were poor, she said, after the war,
and probably happy to sell.
A Japanese friend showed me how to hang
it from a bamboo rod, on a wall painted
gold to set it off. I look at it and wonder
whose it was, what mother or grandmother
sold it, how long it had been in that family.
As long as in mine, seventy years now?
I would give it back, but to whom?
I will never understand what’s woven in that cloth.
- Victoria Stefani (draft)