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poetry Outside from the Inside

“Outside from Inside,” words found in a letter written from a Japanese American concentration camp, are transformed by New York poet Anne Whitehouse.


Outside from the Inside

By Anne Whiteside


                        From Isamu Noguchi to Man Ray

                          Poston War Relocation Center, May 30, 1942

Here, in the internment camp

in the Arizona desert

our preoccupations have shrunk

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to a minimum—

the intense dry heat,

afternoon dust storms,

and the difficulty of feeding ourselves

on thirty-five cents a day.

Outside from the inside

it seems history has taken flight

and passes forever.

Here time has stopped and nothing

is of any consequence,

nothing of any value,

neither our time nor our skill.

But I must remind myself,

work is the conversation

I have with myself,

and space is supplied

by the imagination.

Here, there is the memory

of ancient places,

wind and sun, endlessness,

where I came from,

and where I will go.

Oh, for a mountain peak,

a glacier glistening in the sun.

Oh, for an orange,

Oh, for the sea.

Anne Whitehouse is the author of six poetry collections—most recently Meteor Shower (Dos Madres Press). She was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and lives in New York City.

She writes: The artist Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988), born to a Japanese father and American mother, volunteered to be interned with other Japanese-Americans during World War II, thinking that he could teach them arts and crafts. He found conditions at the Poston War Relocation Center in Arizona so dire that he immediately regretted his decision, but it took some time to secure his release. On a visit to the Noguchi Museum in New York, I noticed in an exhibit case a letter from Noguchi to the photographer Man Ray written in 1942, while Noguchi was in the camp. “Outside from the inside” is Noguchi’s phrase.