a disappearance beside the yatsushiro sea


For Aaron Fai and Masaki Matsuo


Margaret Morri was the name Yoshikane Araki used when referring to an apparition who squeezed under the doorway or window mesh or rose between barrack floorboards to haunt the hot desert air above his straw mattress. At the age of eighty-eight, Kane had never witnessed the slightest apparition before, not in Kumamoto Prefecture where it was said shiranui might erupt over calm seas, nor on the Central Coast of California where visitations by slain Chumash warriors were understood as commonplace. But the appearances of his apparition in Gila River occurred nightly, and she was massive and bright as a second moon. The one he called Margaret Morri emerged in the form of an enormous moth, a wingspan not less than two yards across, wings white as bleached linens, and with eyes bearing the same clarity and intelligence as any friend or relative.

The same pattern of events occurred at night. Kane awoke in otherworldly blackness. Feeling he was still in California, his body roused with the urge to pick from his family’s orchards of black thundercloud plums while the morning was cool and damp. Then he would remember he was in Gila River, and feeling parched, would wrestle with the thought of rising and disturbing his wife’s sleep for a drink. Just as Kane reconciled with returning to sleep thirsty, the mighty white moth descended upon him and situated itself upon his chest. The weight of the moth over him was at least that of a grown adult, and though he could have possibly thrashed himself free, he was oddly soothed by its presence. In the half-dark, Kane and Margaret Morri inspected each other’s faces and bodies.

And then in the voice of an adult woman, Margaret Morri spoke, “I have come with a message for you, Kane Araki. You are not safe in this camp. You must return with me at once to the Yatsushiro Sea.”

But Kane could not return to Kumamoto Prefecture. He had lived his entire manhood in California. His wife had carried and delivered three radiant children in California cities. His daughters had grown eating the oceanic flesh of black abalone and red abalone. They had filled their pails and pots for years with bent-nose clams and Pacific butterclams. They had labored in fields of strawberries, grapes, peppers and green beans. His children had married California Nisei and the geography of all of their dreams was in the shadow-California. So it was for Kane’s sisters and brothers. Canal Camp was crowded with Araki blood. Hardly any of Kane’s dreams were located in Kumamoto. Unless his dreams were of his parents who were both in the next world over. The moth knew every bit of this, he felt certain.

“If you die here in this desert,” Margaret Morri said, “your family may never return to Kumamoto. It is a disastrous curse to be taken as a prisoner in another nation. To perish as a prisoner between nations would be ruinous for your family’s good blood and reputation.”

But separation was never an option for Kane. Relocation and imprisonment were agonies far less to bear.

And then the moth extended a long black arm, and it appeared like the arm and hand of a woman. The moth extended a handful of white flowers toward Kane’s face. Kane did not recognize the sorts of flowers held by the moth. Were they the blossoms of a horseradish tree? Pincushion flower? Flowering bell of the thorn-apple? Desert chicory?

Then, as though anesthetized with a rag of ether, Kane became overwhelmed in a dreamless, starless loss of time.

In the hospital barracks of Canal Camp, Kane discussed the entire phenomenon with his doctor, Peter Yamamoto. Was this vision a symptom of senility? Was he going mad? Was this a malady of the desert? Were these dreams ruminating the anxieties of relocation?

“You assume the moth was a dream,” Yamamoto said. “Not necessarily is she a dream. All month the great white moths have been visiting men and women in Canal Camp. They are described in precisely the same manner. They practice the same behaviors. They are in favor of a return to a city of origin or of rebellion. The moths are too common to be attributed to old age, dehydration or madness.”

Yamamoto asked Kane to remove his shirt so that he might inspect the sounds of his heart and lungs. How did the moths expect their internees to travel? Kane wondered. Would she have carried him through the air? What would he do in Kumamoto if he arrived? He had no means and his countries were at war.

“They are troublemakers,” Peter Yamamoto said. “Why do you call yours Margaret Morri?”

Margaret Morri had been the name of a young neighbor Kane had known and loved. When he was a boy of eight and she was twelve, she took him to the seashore to collect fiddler crabs. These Margaret later sold as pets. On a few occasions, Margaret appeared during the night and slept in Kane’s bed beside him. Had this practice been agreed upon by Kane’s parents? He couldn’t remember any intrusions. What had frightened Margaret from her bedroom? On these occasions Margaret wore a ghostly white dress.

Thinking of it, Kane realized this dress was the same color in his memory as the wings of the great moth.

“And what ever happened to this Margaret Morri?” Yamamoto asked. Kane felt the cool metal of Yamamoto’s stethoscope against his back.

Margaret Morri had disappeared one day by the Yatsushiro Sea. Could this be correct? Had Margaret been swept away? Or had an inexplicable crime occurred? Or had her parents simply moved away? As he probed deeply into his memories, he could only make out an afternoon where he observed the stiff and bewildered expressions upon the faces of his parents. It had been eighty years since he had discussed Margaret Morri with anyone. His only impression was that all the Morris had disappeared at once.