I don’t know why I crawled under my potted bougainvillea, branches swooping wildly sideways, the trunk powerful enough to have split the pot long ago. Its days are numbered. Yet the life-force continues. Here among the under-branches, a branch remains with a few faded blossoms of stunning color, a kind of light-shot cerise. The tissue has grown so thin that these older blossoms glow like fuchsia windowpanes. It’s breathtaking, and almost registers as a wound. I’m thinking about Amy Uyematsu.
Amy was a beloved friend. Years back, when cancer came to her, she wrote numbered ‘zap’ poems. Of course, she’ll survive, I thought, tallying so many aspects of the ordeal with such straight-forward courage – a person like that has to go on.
And when it seemed the protocols were over, no more zaps, and Amy as strong as ever, Amy who did not flinch, Amy who used illness as a spur to create, again, I thought, of course. She had won the battle with her mettle, her multi-vantage, her acceptance and complete lack of self-pity, the many poems she wrote to help her through. I didn’t expect cancer to hibernate, morph, and crawl into her bones.
But neither did I foresee her determination. She wrote early on to say that ‘a person does not recover from something like this,’ and yet she continued working, facing each day with gratitude, forging on through. She got her last book out early and gave readings on zoom. She went through her papers, tallied publications, wrote thank you notes, and wished for what she wouldn’t get. She did get to go to Hawaii; they braved it. Not strong enough to walk on the shore, she rested on a chaise in the shade and spent some last rich time with her beloved grandsons.
It would be wrong not to speak more of Amy and justice. Her bulwark was justice. Her great work was justice. And her life’s strength was given over to the struggle for justice. Even as she had to measure out and conserve what energy remained, she went on acting in service of justice.
Here is an example: Amy sponsored but couldn’t participate in a reading at Descanso Gardens on Feb. 5th, 2023. She had a special relationship with Descanso Gardens in that her grandfather had a camellia nursery in the Malibu area. When Executive Order 9066 was signed, all persons of Japanese descent understood that they were about to lose everything. E. Manchester Boddy, who had become wealthy in California, was planning a botanical garden. He purchased the Uyematsu camellias and the entire Yoshimura nursery in the San Gabriel Valley. These purchases were the basis for the new garden. When I checked the website back in February, I found this sentence: “Their loss was our gain.” I told Amy about it and saw that flash of disappointment and determination cross her face.
That language is now gone. There’s nothing about anyone’s loss being balanced by someone’s gain. It was wrong to phrase it that way, and now it’s gone.
In her sixth and final book, That Blue Trickster Time, Amy stands in relation to life and death, full into the wisdom of a woman in her position. Amy was determined to go on living to the last. She never stops caring for her beloved husband. She never stops communing with the natural world. More than ever, she understands the silence that surrounds every word. Love, and a hunger for beauty, and her lifelong thirst for justice breathe through her as long as she breathes. Now that she is ‘bound to the wordlessness of stone,’ we, who miss her with all our hearts, still have her words. We have her example. We still have the love.