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Syndic Literary Journal

For Raping


LeRoy Chatfield

Old age is unpredictable and often plays tricks with my memory. 

For example, I know the name of the three block-long  street ~ Sherwood Ave ~ in the  adjoining neighborhood across the rail tracks, that connects Del Rio Road to Mead Ave. I should know it! I have walked it for more than 40-years.

And yet, from time to time,  when in casual conversation with my wife or neighbors, I sometimes struggle to remember its name. It’s right on the tip of my tongue, but the harder I try to remember the name, the more elusive it becomes. If it’s my wife I am talking with  I can say: Babe, I forget, what is the name of that street on the other side the tracks? She bails me out. But if I am talking with someone not too familiar with the adjoining neighborhood, there is no one to turn to. I can only say: I’m sorry, please excuse my age and change the subject. In either instance it is  frustrating and certainly  bad for my old-age morale!

On  the other hand, my old age can play memory tricks in reverse.

For example, something I have not thought  about for 65-years ~ I had no idea that even such  a memory might have lived in my memory bank ~ now comes blazing out of nowhere!  And so crystal clear,  I can reconstruct the scene in great detail even  as to facial expressions, tone of voice, furniture in the room, time of day, my reaction ~ simply amazing, even a little scary! 

The latest example of this memory reverse trick came just a few days ago. After publishing my July 4th  2020 special edition of Syndic Literary Journal, I took a few days off  away from the computer to regroup, calm down, and figure out what should come next.

I opened up my Syndic folder containing unread submissions and found three submissions from Rasha Mansour, a Palestinian poet. I had never read her poetry before but I remembered she had been recommended to me by Britta Kollberg, a German poet whose work I often publish.  Britta was right! These very personal poems would make for an interesting chapter in the next Syndic.

I emailed Rasha with my decision but had to point out I would also need an audio narration for each poem before they could be published. She responded she did not think  she was confident enough to narrate in English and would it be acceptable if I could find someone else to do it for her. This was not an unusual request, especially for poets raised in other countries and cultures so I accepted her proposal.

On to the next submission, this one from the Japanese poet, Taki Yuriko, whose work I like and have published numerous times in the last six years or so. Her piece was entitled: Vacant Seat.  As is her usual, it would be a very long piece, and I settled in for a very long read. But just a few lines in, I had to stop!

During World War II,
Front line comfort woman brothels
Were established by
The Japanese Imperial Army
To keep their soldiers free from STDs
They might otherwise get
From raping area women
Near the battle zone.
The girls taken there, young and chaste,
Were deceived, frightened into going,
Transported by ship or truck
To parts unknown,
Closeted in individual tiny rooms,
Then forced to sleep with
A new Japanese soldier
Every 15 to 30 minutes.
All day, every day.
Because this operation was classified,
The girls were strictly controlled
To prevent their escape.

Perhaps it was triggered by the few lines I had read in Taki’s poem, but  I could not continue to read – a “memory reverse trick”  blind-sided me.

As if it happened just yesterday, I remembered that day in 1954 at St. Mary’s College when Brother Emmanuel confided in me about a family story that happened in World War II.

Brother Emmanuel, a young Christian Brother from Manila, had been assigned to the to Scholasticate  at St. Mary’s College to pursue his college education. I too had come to the Scholasticate after I completed my Novitiate monastic training at Mont LaSalle in the Napa Valley. Emmanuel and I soon become good friends.  He was an accomplished soccer player and  I loved sports, but being an American,  had never played soccer before.  He was as anxious to teach me, as I was anxious to learn. Soft spoken and such a nice person, he was a patient and ever encouraging soccer coach.

At the Scholasticate we Christian Brothers in-training,  were there to study for our  B.A. degrees before being assigned to teach in one of the Christian Brothers High Schools in California. After graduation, Brother Emmanuel would return to the Philippines to be assigned to teach there.

 At St. Mary’s we attended classes with the regular students but we lived separate and apart and were not permitted to participate in social events or hang out with the other students.  In that sense, we were cloistered.

One day after classes, Emmanuel and I were hanging out together just talking about nothing in particular when he told me a World War II story affecting his family. He told me that during the Japanese occupation of Manila, a Japanese soldier came through their neighborhood – in the alley  as I remember it – and saw his sister playing in the back yard.  He came into the yard, took hold of her and walked back out to the alley pulling her along with him. The family was in an uproar.  Two of Emmanuel’s older brothers ran out the front door to see if they could run ahead and lay in wait for the soldier and free their kidnapped sister. They were successful.  When the soldier appeared with their sister, they stormed out from their hiding place, overpowered the kidnapper, and killed him. They ran back home, put his sister in the car and drove her to another province to live with relatives.

Emmanuel stopped talking.

It was completely silent

I had never before heard anything in my life that was so shocking or so unusual.  

I just sat there trying to take in what he had told me. I knew  he was waiting for me to say something, anything.

Finally, I  aked, “Why did the soldier take your sister away?”

There was a long pause.

Finally he looked up and said very softly:  “ For raping”.
















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