National Poetry Month Day 20: Brynn Saito





What is Your Struggle?

Your acupuncture doctor calls you a warrior. You hear worrier. Then you hear warrior. What does it mean to believe in one’s body? Your mother’s massage therapist says her body is ready for a war zone: hard rock shoulders at high alert, a whole life like that—why? You didn’t grow up in a war zone, you grew up in the suburbs of Central California, the state’s vast armpit, a sea-level basin that’s also a bread basket that’s also a place of hot struggle, smog, strip malls, shadows. The woman warrior didn’t just go to battle, says your favorite author at the Friday night craft talk, she also led the soldiers home. She led them home. Maybe what makes you a warrior isn’t so much your rage but the fact that you’ll sacrifice yourself for another kind of peace. When you start writing poems about a woman warrior, a writer you admire says, “I like them, but what is she fighting for?” Do you know? Do you know what you fight for? What is your struggle? That’s the first question the Zapatistas ask when you visit the autonomous territories in the highland mountains for the first time. Red masks, mighty women, rebel sky. Your mother hated that you traveled there; she worried the whole time. You wish she could’ve come with you. More warrior, less worry. You hope that all that tension in her back means she’s growing wings.



Numbers Game

All along it was a numbers game: 15 retrieved would get you 5 or 6 blasts would get you 1-2 embryos. But 4 got you 0 got you 0. 41 years got you 2 master’s degrees, 4 serious partners, 6 not-so-serious but devastating in their own right. 41 years got you 1 marriage, 1 house, 2 dogs, 1 cat, 3 books, 0 children. 25 is the number of minutes you were under anesthesia for the procedure that would change your life forever. 3.26 is the number of inches of rain that fell in your hometown when you were thousands of miles away, drugged up and waiting. 4 is the number of times per day you wonder if it’s too late for you. 4 is the number of times per day you ask yourself: What does that mean, too late? According to whose timeline? 30,000 is the number of dollars it takes to fail. 48 is the age your mother was when they took out her uterus. X is the number of days you have left with your mother. X is the number of women in your motherline who’ve had the same surgery as your mother. 60 is how many degrees it is when you go walking with your mother through a California winter, light sluicing the cork oak, light skirting the resilient camellias. What does it mean, too late? 1,868 is the number of weeks you have left to live, assuming you live. 4.5 billion is the age of the earth in human years. 5.5 billion is the number of years until the sun makes its expansion and vaporizes the planet.



Author photo by Dave Lehl Photography Inc.

Brynn Saito’s third book of poems, Under a Future Sky, will be published in August 2023 by Red Hen Press. She’s the recipient of the Benjamin Saltman Award and her poems have appeared in the New York Times and American Poetry Review. Brynn lives in the homelands of the Yokuts and Mono peoples, also known as Fresno, CA, where she teaches at California State University, Fresno. She is co-editing with Brandon Shimoda an anthology of poetry written by descendants of the Japanese American incarceration, forthcoming in 2025 from Haymarket Books. More from this author →