Brian Komei Dempster


Through your father’s hands
around the wood bat, we knew
he was there. He showed us
how to do it: Keep your eyes

open. Grab it tight. Be braver than the ball.
The pop of oak against leather,
a club against bone.
Between swings came a sudden

pause, his eyes hidden
behind mirrored glasses, locked on the dot
in the sky. His flinch
as the bat made

contact, after a branch snapped,
an engine shot out—the real weight
unknown, buried somewhere in the canvas bag
we dragged across the field

after practice, sound of helmets
and balls rolling in the trunk,
his rearview glance—to know
it was us.

Ghost at Fort Sill, 1942

They found me

near the fence.

Snow passing

through a hole

in my head.


I am the name

buried here.

If you ask

why I did it,

I did it for her.


I raised

my eyes,

the mountain’s jagged blade

cutting a line

through the sky.


They all

asked why

I ran,


the fence.


Her blue kimono

falling. The rumor travels

across miles. The guard in

my wife’s barrack. I am

running towards her.


White crystals

in my hair,

I was

lifted up.



I can’t reach her:

his rifle lifting

her hem,

his hands push against

her sea of silk.


I am the one

buried here.

Birds fly

over. Blue

passes through.

photo by Alan Mawyer

Brian Komei Dempster is the recipient of grants from the Arts Foundation of Michigan, the Center for Cultural Innovation, and the San Francisco Arts Commission. His debut collection of poems, Topaz, was published by Four Way Books in 2013. His poems have appeared in such journals as the Massachusetts Review, New England Review, North American Review, and Ploughshares, as well as been anthologized in Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, & Beyond (W.W. Norton, 2008) and Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation (University of Illinois, 2004). “’Nam” first appeared, in an earlier version, in Post Road and is from his second manuscript, Seize, which will be published by Four Way Books in fall 2020; “Ghost at Fort Sill, 1942” is from his third in-progress manuscript.