how to be home

sit on a wooden stool
naked as an orphan
use a spigot and a bucket
buff with washcloth between each toe
behind my knees around every edge and curve
three elder women sit on stools beside me
chatting like they can’t remember a time
they didn’t know each other
giggling and teasing poking and play fighting
children clothed in wrinkled skin

conversation turns to me
what color is the gaijin’s hair
one with a gruff voice asks
same as the hair on her head says a squeaky one
appraising flesh like skewered chicken
I pretend I do not understand
high nosed freckled redheads
never bother to learn the language
but after three years
I think and dream and hope in it

another with a smooth voice leans over to me
discounting their verbal scrutiny
of my lesser-known regions just moments ago
forgetting to think that I don’t understand
who do you live with
I say I live alone eh areeee they chant in alarm
no one lives alone here
why on earth have I
then the squeaky one asks
who washes your back for you

can they see loneliness seeping from my pores
why work so hard to build a life here
only to leave it now why is hello always only
one small step from goodbye nothing
ever goes missing here but I have
the smooth-voiced one soaps a cloth
she begins to scrub my back
no request for permission
she pours water over me
makes room for tears scrubs some more

when she’s done she pats me gently
rubbing down my shoulders which
had crept up towards my ears
there you go little one
clean now all four of us wade in the water
we talk about everything and nothing
about chopsticks and tea and favorite sushi
the speed of planes and why the handshake
renewed together in the warmth of the bath
I can’t stop bowing deeply

it will never be a place
it is a sacrament
permission to enter adoption
into folds of mismatched fabric
the one who washes
my back when I am naked and alone
the ones who will wish me
well at the airport tomorrow
the ones who will greet me
wherever I land

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