by Kiik A. K.
Yoshi K. Araki had only one great love during his lifetime. Her name was Margie Morri, and though she was one of the most beautiful creatures in Gila River, it was her eating rituals he fell in love with and memorized fluently as the Scout Promise.
For breakfast she prepared a slice of hot white toast, a wisp of melting butter, and two large spoonfuls of Arizona desert honey. The crusts were trimmed into four tan stripes, lowered into the butter and honey and gobbled up. The remaining square she folded in half and tilted into her open mouth, never letting a bead of honey escape.
At lunch she ordered a hamburger bun with sesame seeds, and on it she assembled fried cuts of bacon, ice-cold slices of tomato, pickles, chopped cabbage, thin rings of raw zucchini or yellow squash, and Italian salad dressing. The sandwich was cleaved down the center and eaten from corner to corner in slow, contemplative bites.
At dinner she ordered soup, ladled into a shallow bowl she brought with her, a cup of white rice, and one uncooked egg. The egg was rapped upon the table’s ledge, its contents unbuckling onto steaming rice, and whipped into rich froth, coating every grain. Salt and pepper were shaken like a religious rite over the bowl. And then a nest of warm egg and rice was submerged by tiny wooden ladle into the broth of her soup and bathed there before being raised up to her lips.
Until the war, Yoshi K. had lived a life tortured by a relentless appetite. As a child he could eat five or six bowls of rice with dinner. If he came upon a fruit tree or a bed of mussels, he ate until he was sick. He’d once eaten an entire row of early potatoes, perhaps twelve pounds of them, unwashed and flaking wet soil. His parents often had to beat him from the kitchen table to keep him from poisoning himself with too much vinegar, hot mustard, mayonnaise, ground red pepper.
But when Yoshi K. discovered Margie it made him feel oddly satiated. The day he first observed her was the day he stopped hiding bread in his jacket pockets. He quit slinging rocks at the desert wrens and skewering them over hot coals. And though they never spoke a sentence to each other, Yoshi K. watched nearly every bite that’d sustained Margie over their three-year relocation to Gila. He craved the routine of her meals as much as his own. On days he could not watch her, his hunger returned and was so overwhelming he could hardly stand straight.
Yoshi K. and Margie had only one day of communication with each other. This happened the morning after Margie injured her arm from a fall off the Morri family’s barrack steps. She arrived at the mess hall later than usual, right arm tucked into a sling, left arm carrying a plate of toast. Because her friends had already eaten and gone, she sat directly across from Yoshi K. She did not know his name at the time, but she recognized him as one of the young men whose pastime it was to lift weights, play ukulele and smoke cigarettes down beside the racetrack. She had wandered by that track often and had fantasized about sending a friend over with an invitation to accompany her on a walk.
Generally Margie would’ve felt too humiliated being across from a stranger without a way to hide her injury. But the sight of Yoshi K. sitting alone in the near-empty mess hall was somehow exhilarating to her. She was further encouraged when she saw his plate of food was untouched, and he’d have to remain in her company for the duration of his meal.
It was in a hospital bed, on the Central Coast of California, decades later, where Margie would admit to her children and grandchildren that her most enduring memory was the morning Yoshi K. cut the crusts from her toast for her. It happened without a word passing between them. There was something oddly rehearsed about it all. It was as though the two had eaten together the evening previous, and she’d instructed him in the manner she wanted him to eat in tandem. At the moment she attempted to manipulate her knife with her non-dominant hand, Yoshi K. instinctively took the knife from her and cut the crusts from her toast into four stripes. When she’d finished eating them, he folded her toast in half and carefully placed it into her left hand. When he did, it felt as though she were remembering it, as though he’d placed food into her hand a thousand times before. When she was finished eating, he placed her empty plate atop his own and carried them back toward the kitchen.
At lunch Margie found Yoshi K. again. This time he assembled two sandwiches atop sesame buns. Bacon, pickles, cabbage, raw slices of yellow crookneck squash. On one plate he cut the sandwich down the center and slid it across to her. He stared down at his food while they ate. A strange routine formed between them. She didn’t ask any questions, and he didn’t provide any answers. She felt like a partner in a long, comfortable marriage that weighed its silences as equal with its conversations. At dinner Yoshi K. was waiting for her. In his hand he was polishing the surface of an uncooked egg with his napkin, ready to be cracked over a bowl of rice, whipped, seasoned, and dipped into a cup of broth.
Margie wouldn’t have an opportunity to eat with Yoshi K. again. On the evening of their first meal together, a scorpion crawled into Yoshi K.’s mouth while he slept, and its venom suffocated him. Margie didn’t learn his name until after he’d passed, and his obituary appeared in the Gila News-Courier.
an egg was written shortly after talking with the poet and professor Michael Davidson. Whatever works in it, I dedicate it to him. Michael told me because I was writing on internment, I could put an emphasis on tiny details and banal events and they could take on much more powerful meanings. Because my grandparents actually did have a lot of eating rituals/adventures at the Gila camp, I thought I might be able pair some of their experiences with a sort of doomed, obsessive love story. In truth, Margie probably would've never been able to assemble her meals as she wanted, because according to my grandparents, the meals at Gila were uniform and monotonous. But I still like the idea of a strong, sassy Japanese woman marching into a mess hall kitchen to build her plate exactly how she wants. I've definitely seen my grandparents try and invade the kitchens at restaurants.
Kiik A.K. earned an MA from UC Davis where his poetics thesis was titled The Joy of Human Sacrifice. He is a current graduate student at UC San Diego where he is working on a collection of counter-internment narratives, tentatively titled, Everyday Colonialism. At night he drives around with the DBC crew.