Paternal Pedagogy

Derek Otsuji


Those autumn evenings, our father home
from his day-shift at the old cannery,
the front porch would convert to a study
where my sister and I sat at a table
for nightly lessons in arithmetic.
Multiplication charts written on
yellow legal pads—the neat columns, rows
copied by hand (a precise machinist’s),
the same that had kept the cannery humming
nine years.
       We chanted cadenced sequences
aloud, a recipe of runes mixing rhythm
and memory to produce the miraculous
learning while our father plucked sweet
numbers on his mandolin till we
had gotten the tables by heart. He never
spoke a word about opportunities
he never had, nor recited a single
maxim of what good schooling could do.
But picked harmonics he used to fine-tune
his pitch struck each in each a sympathetic
resonance of strings. Beyond the porch light,
the cooped chickens clucked and jostled before
resettling into sleep. Moths, pulled into
orbit by the glow, circled the pale bulb
like hieroglyphs. Night crickets in the starred
outback sizzled at their strange frequencies
that stirred in us the stranger harmonies.


Derek Otsuji lives and writes on the southern shore of Oahu, between Kewalo Harbor and the Ko‘olau Mountains. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Poet Lore, Sycamore Review, and Threepenny Review.