by. George Masao Yamazawa

My dad always loved using his hands. Would leave marks on my face
as a sign for discipline.
Some may call them bruises, 

I call them visible prayers.
My cheeks learned the lines
on the inside of his palms
like a road map to better behavior
but I could never follow directions very well. 

When I was little, I peed in the garage ’cause I was too lazy to go inside.
Tried to blame it on the cat;
he told me not to lie and pushed my face into my own urine, 

I never thought I’d be able to smell my own dishonesty. 

His hands were so strong,
one day he lifted me up by my innocence,
and when he let go, I landed in a foster home without even knowing he did it,
finished the last few months of my fifth grade year with a family that wasn’t even mine. 

Sometimes my emotions would explode like a gunshot and I’d watch tears race each other down to my jaw line.
Felt like my heart 

and his English 

were the only things we had in common, both broken
like a record spinning
the soundtrack to our family’s harmony. 

When I returned home that summer and things
finally started to get back to normal, I was told 

he was diagnosed with cancer as a sign from the universe that things
are just getting started. 

While he was in the hospital
his hair began to wear thin
like the line between discipline and abuse. 

My mother caressed him like an instrument, plucked the hair strands from his head
like harp strings tired of playing love songs. 

The radiation showed in his gums, began to bleed courageously
like the stab wounds in Caesar’s back. 

When he was in the army
he was a long range rifle shooter. At one point they crowned him best in Japan. 

He’d practice
with patience
and precision
back when his hands were controllable. 

Before every match, he would chant, reciting in his head, 

Katsu! Katsu! Ze-taini Katsu!
I will win! I will win! No matter what, I will win! 

Sitting by his hospital bed I swore
I saw
the reflection 

of a shooting target in his eyes. 

His main aim was to live long enough
to see his children succeed. 

But resentment grew in my blood like a bad case of leukemia,
his illness wasn’t a reason
good enough for me to forgive him at the time, 

but now,
I get it Dad. 

You were surviving long enough
to offer me an apology I could properly accept. 

You wanted to build the altar that I pray towards
with the hands
that bruised my faith. 

You still had to teach me
what it means to win, no matter what, and never give up,
whether it’s finishing a poem
or surviving cancer. 

Katsu! Katsu! Ze-taini Katsu!
I will win! I will win! No matter what, I will win! 

How dare I resent the man
that taught me how to pray,
knowing people who never had a father in the first place? 

Thank you. 

For the broken English that reminds me
I’m Japanese. 

For the spots on your arms that remind me
I’m breathing. 

For the haircuts
you claim
are perfect every time. 

(Every now and then he’ll leave a patch
on the back of my head, same size as the bruises he left on my face.) 

I just smile,
and take it as a reminder
of how uncontrollable your hands used to be.