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I Know My Life Matters But How Do I Translate That Into Japanese?

by Michael Frazier



My students & co-workers worry 
if I return to America, I’ll catch COVID
or a bullet in my back. I run
along the Asano river & above me
carpenter bees raid the chinaberry tree. Crows 
patrol the power lines. Mosquitoes
swarm the bank & hum
for blood. I swat but I’m tailed 
by nothing but night. June 1st
across Japan, festival fireworks are shot
beneath the ripening strawberry moon. Meanwhile
fire works its way through cars in downtown Rochester
& my mother says she can’t watch the news anymore. 
I wish I could be that kind to myself.
I spend hours thumbing Twitter wondering
how does God manage being 
in more than two places at once?
I know I’m safe, here, but that’s not
how racism works. I’m still amazed
no one follows me
in the convenience stores. I wish 
it was as simple as saying America 
is the problem, black folks have it better
elsewhere. But there’s black face
on national television. Children
whispering scary as I turn
into the ice cream aisle. I know nigga
does not exist in the Japanese language. I know 
at least here, I’ll never be shot 
seven times. And yet, on my way home
from church, a police car slams its breaks 
officers dart across the street 
tripping over concrete to ask, do you live
here? Do you have any abunaimono,
naifu, doraggu? Can we see
inside your bag? Do you understand?
I understand that the longest lasting pandemic
is man-made, spreads 
from culture-to-culture, has no cure
you can buy with money.
My students ask, in America, why do police
hate black people? Does everyone
protest? Does everyone
have a gun? Are you




Michael Frazier is a poet & educator. He graduated from NYU, where he was the 2017 poet commencement speaker & a co-champion of CUPSI. He’s performed at Nuyorican Poets Café, Lincoln Center, & Gallatin Arts Festival, among other venues. His poems appear, or are forthcoming, in Cream City Review, Tokyo Poetry Journal, COUNTERCLOCK, Construction, Visible Poetry Project, & elsewhere. His writing has been supported by Callaloo & a Brooklyn Poets Fellowship. Currently, he is a staff reader for The Adroit Journal, curator for Button Poetry, and a Seventh Wave Editorial Resident. He recently won Tinderbox’s 2020 Brett Elizabeth Jenkins Poetry Prize. Based in central Japan, he’s working on a poetry collection about his mother & can talk for days about anime, poetry, and how Christ has changed his life. Follow @fraziermichael