Amy Uyematsu is a sansei (3rd-generation Japanese American) poet and teacher from Los Angeles.  She has five published collections: Basic Vocabulary (Red Hen Press, 2016), The Yellow Door (Red Hen, 2015), Stone Bow Prayer (Copper Canyon Press, 2005), Nights of Fire, Nights of Rain (Story Line Press, 1998), and 30 Miles from J-Town (Story Line, 1992).  Her work can be seen in many anthologies and literary journals, including recent poems in Truthdig, Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond, Bamboo Ridge Journal, Coiled Serpent:  Poets Arising from the Cultural Quakes and Shifts of Los Angeles, and Rattle. She was the first publications coordinator of the newly formed UCLA Asian American Studies Center, where she co-edited the widely used anthology, Roots:  An Asian American Reader in 1971.  Now retired, Amy was a Los Angeles Unified Schools high school math teacher for 32 years.  Currently she teaches a creative writing class at the Far East Lounge for the Little Tokyo Service Center.

The Well

Imagine a mountain whose name is heart.

At the throat of the mountain
they fill a well
with so many stones
it can hold nothing more.

They'd never heard of
the mountain named heart,
Kokoro-yama, til they were taken
as prisoners to Heart Mountain.

Imagine a heart big enough to be called mountain.

A mound of stones,
too many to count, remain -
each inscribed
by a different hand,
each crying out.

Some simply reveal
the writer's name -
Shizuko, a woman,
or a family known as Osajima.
Most of the handpainted
rocks carry a single kanji -
snow     wind     cold     sky
shame     home     bird.

- For the 12,000 Japanese Americans
interned at Heart Mountain, Wyoming

From Nights of Fire, Nights of Rain


A Repeating Bass Line


wisteria & jacaranda

grew wild
        through our town, their
lavender and blue blossoms
        fell lightly, made
a cool shade of fuji iro,
        wisteria purple,
but I felt the whispers
        and men who won‘t smile
        at the children we were,
our grandfathers
        tending the land
long before the flight
        of citydwellers
        three bedroom families
and artists who moved into
        canyons of boulders and pine.

sierra madre used
        its natural beauty
tried to make us forget
        lima avenue for jews,
grove street
        for mexicans and japs,
wisteria & jacaranda
        grew wild there too.
and one night we watched
        a flame burn
blue purple
        on the lawn down our street.

but the next day only
        a scorched outline
        that creeps into dreams
and soon the grass
        grew full again.

From 30 Miles from J-Town, excerpt from longer poem


-- it was like holding a piece of straw
      above an endless ocean

           Monk Song Yoon


I am dreaming of fields
before the harvest

where everything moves
to sun and wind


wave after wave
a sea of golden yellow

embracing the ground
with seeded eyes


what rain will fatten
this piece of straw

which warm beam
of morning light


with a single stem
I wake once more

to know how far
I’ve come to taste you

From The Yellow Door


A Handful of Knowing


Even as a child she prefers their company. Each day the girl goes to Stone
Mountain and chooses one of the ten thousand stones which lie at its base.
Sometimes she picks a jagged rock, studies it from different angles to see
it brighten and darken in the shifting light.Or she might spread a handful of
pebbles on her outstretched palms and marvel that no two are exactly the same
size or shape. If she finds a boulder big enough for her to recline on her back, she
can take in the sky. Before long the girl is able to touch each granite gem with
the deft fingers of a sculptor, delighted when a once grainy surface turns glassy
and smooth. Sitting among the rocks and pebbles, she listens with them to a world
that stirs, grateful when something new flurries in and glad when mountain quiet
returns. As time passes, the girl grows so intimate with the stones that no one
notices she's become old and weathered and silent like them. Song birds and lizards
rest on her. Small fingers trace the lines on her face.

(after watching a video on Michael Grab, a Boulder artist who stacks boulders)

Pay close attention to the feel of each rock.
Remember that balance requires a minimum of three contact points.
Let fingers go light.
Notice even the smallest clicks, some smaller than millimeters.
Continue to meditate.
Use the tiny to large indentations as a tripod so the stone can stand upright.
Connect with the rock's vibrations.
Wait for it to become nearly weightless.
Listen to it become still.
Expect the impossible.
Arrange one rock so it barely touches the next rock then one more.
Splash some water on the slowly rising sculpture.
Welcome the wind rushing through.
Believe in the steadiness of these stones.
Be as patient.
Know that simple gravity and devotion form a limitless glue.
Count on the zero point of silence within.

From Basic Vocabulary


Amy Uyematsu



© 2017 Amy Uyematsu


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