“On Reading Joy Kogawa” by Kevin Irie2 min read

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Illustration by Anderson Lee

Reading Joy Kogawa’s poem
on the Evacuation, I suddenly awaken

to the fact that the people I knew
who knew her are gone. Grown-ups

who could tell me of her life
in Slocan, the ghost town,

the grown-ups who could have
described her school

because they taught there. Who could show me
the school photo as actual proof.

That when I sought out little Joy
across rows of small children,

it was the grown-up beside them
I remember the most.

That when I tell others that my family
knew her, and how, and why,

I awake to the fact that their history
makes mine.

That when a student asks me if I vote, and why,
I say

it is because Japanese Canadians were the only
citizens who ever had that right

taken away by law. That laws don’t catch
the man at Dundas and Bathurst

who calls me wok boy
as he speeds by on his bike in 2023,

or the other who brays ching, ching, chang
when he sees me off Mansfield.

That my parents and grandparents
must have heard worse,

though they never mentioned it,
and I never thought

to ask. Awake, awake, wok boy.
Because that’s what I hear.

Not what’s been awakened.
But what’s put to rest.



Kevin Irie is a Japanese-Canadian poet whose poetry has appeared in Canada, England, the States, and Australia, and been translated into Spanish, French, and Japanese. His book, Angel Blood: The Tess Poems (Frontenac House, 2004) was nominated for the ReLit Award. His book, Viewing Tom Thomson: A Minority Report (Frontenac House, 2012), was a finalist for the Acorn-Plantos People’s Poetry Award and the Toronto Book Award. His latest book is The Tantramar Re-Vision (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2021) which was picked by the CBC as one of the Spring Poetry Books for 2021 and by Quill and Quire Magazine as part of its 2021 Summer Reading Guide. He lives in Toronto.

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