Lawson Fusao Inada
"Drawing the Line"
For Yosh Kuromiya
Yosh is drawing the line.
It's a good line, on paper,
and a good morning
for just such an endeavor-
and the line seems to find
its own way, flowing
across the white expanse
like a dark, new river...
Yes, Yosh is drawing the line.
And you might say he's simply
following his own nature --
he's always had a good eye,
a fine sense of perspective,
and a sure hand, a gift
for making things ring true,
and come clearer into view.
So the line makes its way,
on paper, charting a clear
course like a signature,
starting from the left
and towards the bottom-end,
logically and gradually
and gracefully ascending
to the center where it takes
a sharp turn upward, straight
towards the top before it
finds itself leveling off
to the right again, descending
slightly for a while before
dropping straight down, coming
to a rest near the bottom,
bending, descending. gradually
and gracefully as it began, but
at the other side of the space...
No sooner said than done.
Yosh relaxes for the moment,
blinks his eyes, realizing
his intensity of focus, almost
like prayer, a sunrise meditation
of deep and natural concentration.
Ah, another beautiful morning!
Time to move on, see what the day
provides by way of promise...
And as for the drawing, well,
the line is drawn, on paper --
other dimensions can come later...
Yosh, although a young man --
a teenager -- is naturally
calm and confident by nature.
Thus, when he draws a line,
it tends to stay drawn.
He'll make adjustments,
but doesn't make mistakes.
That's just the way he is --
trusting his own judgement
as a person, as an artist.
As a result, he is a most
trusted friend, judging
from the many friends who
count on him, rely on him,
respect what he has to say...
That's just the way he is --
"good-hearted," as they say:
"If you need a favor, ask
Yosh; he'll go out of his way..."
Still, though, "You've got to draw the line
somewhere" -- and as the saying goes,
so goes Yosh, and his friends know
certain things not to ask of him.
What "everybody does" just may not go.
with Yosh, the set of beliefs, the sense
of integrity, values, he got from his folks.
As for this drawing in his sketchbook,
you might well ask: "What is it?"
As is, at this stage, it's just a line --
a line that goes sideways, up, over,
down, descending to the other margin.
Is it just a line? An abstract design?
Or might it stand for something?
At first glance, it looks to be a line
charting the progress of something
that goes along slowly, rising
a bit to indicate, oh, maybe a normal
growth rate or business-as-usual
when all of a sudden it jumps, reflecting
a decisive turn of events which lasts
a while before returning to resume
what might be assumed to be a more
regular course of activity concluding
at what may represent the present
on the journey from the then to the now...
That's what graphs show, the flow
of activity, the rise and fall of events
often out of our hands, so it can become
gratifying to simply resume the bottom-
line of normalcy again, starting over
at square one, back to the drawing-board...
That is, it could have been worse.
The line could have been broken, snapped,
or bottomed-out into nothing, going
nowhere fast like the slow and steady
line monitoring a silent patient...
Or, the line could have turned back
into itself into a dead-end maze,
a meaningless mass of angles and -tangles...
Ah, but if you asked an observant child,
the answer might be: "Well, it just looks
like the bottom of my baby sister's mouth --
'cause when she smiles, she only has one tooth!"
And if you asked Yosh, he'd simply say,
in his modest way: "Oh, that's just Heart Mountain."
Maybe you had to be there.
For if you were, you would not only
not have to ask, but you would
appreciate the profile, the likeness
of what looms large in your life
and mind, as large as life staring
you in the face day by day by day
and so on into night, where it is so
implanted in your sight and mind
the unmistakable promontory protrudes
a .prominence in your mildest dreams,
and even when the dust billows, or clouds
cover it, blowing snow and sleet and rain,
you can't avoid it, you can count on it,
Heart Mountain, Heart Mountain
is still there. And you're here.
Ah, but it is, after all,
just a mountain -- one of many,
actually, in this region,
in this range, and if anything
distinguishes it, it's just
its individual shape and name.
And the fact that it stands
rising up out of the plains
so close you can touch it,
you can almost but not quite
get there on a Sunday picnic,
your voices echoing in the ever-
-green forest on its slopes...
As it stands, it is a remote
monument to, a testament to
something that stands to be
respected from a distance,
accessible only in dreams,
those airy, carefree moments
before the truth comes crashing
home to your home in the camp...
Yosh can take you there, though,
by drawing the line, on paper.
And Yosh, with his own, given name,
is somewhat like the mountain -
an individual, certainly, but also
rather common to this region.
He's just so-and-so's kid,
or just another regular teenager
engaged in whatever it takes these days...
But this morning, it was different.
He was out there at the crack of dawn,
pacing around over by the fence,
blowing into his hands, rubbing
his hands, slapping, clapping
his hands together as if in preparation
to undertake something special
instead of doing the nothing he did --
that is, he just got to his knees
and knelt there, facing the mountain.
Knelt there. Knelt there. Is he praying?
But now he's writing. But writing what?
Then, as sunlight struck the mountain,
and the ordinary idle elder
and the regular bored child
approached Yosh, they could tell
from the size of the wide sketchpad
that he was drawing -- but drawing
what? Well, that's obvious -- but what for?
Seeing the drawing was its own reward.
Boy, look at that! He's got it right!
You've got to admire him for that!
And, boy, if you really look at it --
in this sunrise light, under this
wide, blue sky -- -why, it really is
a beautiful sight, that majestic
hunk of rock they call Heart Mountain!
And to top it off, this talented guy
sure accentuates the positive, because
he didn't include the posts and wire!
Yosh, smiling, greeting, is striding
toward the barracks. There's a line
at the messhall, a line at the toilets.
Better check in with the folks. Mom's
all right, but Dad's never adjusted.
I may or may not show him the drawing.
It depends. He likes me to stay active,
but this might be the wrong subject.
It might rub him wrong, get him
in a mountain-mood of reminiscing
about California, the mountains of home.
And, heck, those were just hills
by comparison, but they've taken on
size in his eyes; still, when I fill in
the shading, the forest, tonight, maybe
he can appreciate it for just what it is:
Heart Mountain, in Wyoming, a drawing
by his dutiful son here with the family
doing its duties -- kitchen duty, latrine duty...
I'll do my duties; and I've got my own duty, my
right, to do what I can, to see this through...
The sketchbook drops to the cot.
Brrr, better go get some coal.
It's the least I can do -- not worth
much else, me, without a real line
of work. But this art might get me
someplace -- maybe even a career
in here! Doing portraits of inmates!
But out there is in here too, related --
-it's a matter of perspective, like lines
of lineage and history, like the line
between me and the fencepost, between
me and the flagpole, between stars,
stripes, the searchlight, and the guy
on duty in the guardtower, maybe
like me, from California, looking
up at the airplane making a line
of sound in the sky, searching
for the right place in a time of peace...
Yes, if I had a big enough piece
of paper, I'd draw the line
tracing the way we came, smooth
as tracks clear back to California;
and in the other direction, the line
clean out to the city of Philadelphia
and the Liberty Bell ringing testimony
over Independence Hall and the framing
of the Constitution. Yes, it's there,
and I can see it, in the right frame of mind...
No, you have no right
to imprison my parents.
No, you have no right
to deny us our liberty.
Yes, I have my right
to stand for our justice.
Yes, I have my right
to stand for our freedom.
And this is where Yosh
drew the line --
on paper, on the pages
of the Constitution.
The rest is history.
for two years
"As long as my family is in here..."
a few sentences
as Yosh gives
drawing the line,
on paper, again.
This time, though, he's a free man
with a free mind and a very clear
conscience, having come full circle
to this clear spring at Heart Mountain.
And Heart Mountain, of course,
is still there, timeless and ever-
-changing in the seasons, the light,
standing, withstanding the test of time.
And this time Yosh is free to roam
his home range like an antelope,
circling the mountain, seeing all sides with new visions, wide perspectives:
from here, it comes to a narrow peak;
from here, it presents the profile
of a cherished parent, strong, serene;
from here, yes, it could be a tooth;
and from anywhere, forever, a heart.
Yes, that's about the truth of it --
-once a heart, always a heart --
a monumental testament under the sky.
This time, though, Yosh is strolling
over a freshly plowed and fenceless field
with that very same sketchbook, searching
through the decades to find that rightful
place in relation to the mountain, wanting
to show his wife where the drawing happened,
where that quiet young man sank to his knees
in reverence for the mountain, in silent
celebration for such a vision of beauty
that evoked such wonder, such a sunrise
of inspiration, wisdom, and compassion
that the line drew itself, making its way
with conviction in the direction it knew
to be right across the space, on paper,
and yes, yes, the heart, the eye, the mind
testify this is right, here, Yosh, hold
up the drawing, behold the mountain, trust
the judgement upholding truth through time
as the man, the mountain, the profile make
a perfect fit in this right place and time
for Yosh to kneel again, feel again, raise
his radiant eyes in peace to face the radiant
mountain, Heart Mountain, Heart Mountain --
and begin, again, with confidence, to draw the line!
Lawson Fusao Inada
16 July 1995
21 July 1995
copyright 1997 Lawson Fusao Inada
the title work from DRAWING THE LINE, Coffee House Press, 1997
used by permission of the author