• Cory Howell

Memories That Aren't Mine (III)



On my pilgrimage, I only ever saw two other people. One was in Topaz--they backed their F-150 into the main entrance, blocked what used to be the gate, and got out to walk their dog.


I thought about trying to strike up a conversation, but when they recognized why I was there, they turned their eyes down and hurried away.


The other was in Amache. I was walking the dirt road from the cemetery, when I heard the rumble of bass in the distance.


A black SUV sped toward me, reggaetón blaring from its open windows. The driver and I exchanged nods as he passed, and I turned to watch him accelerate through a corner.


I stood in the dust he’d left behind. It took a few moments for the cloud to settle.



I tell myself I’m probably reading too much into this, but I do it anyway.


There’s an old inscription on the Rohwer memorial; it’s written in both English and Japanese.


The Japanese is hard to read--not because it’s faded, but because it seems classical, it was written by a turn-of-the-century mind who knew their literature.


There’s a part that stuck out to me, the way they wrote Rohwer: 郎和.


郎 (rou) means melodious, clear, bright. It’s part of the word for cheerful, or good news.


和 (wa) means harmony or peace. It’s also another way to write “Japan.”


The incarcerated named their home “melodious harmony,” or “bright peace.” And maybe it feels just a little like Japan.


There are different ways they could have done this.


They could have called it 牢輪 (rouwa), meaning “looping prison.” Or maybe 労環 (rouwa), meaning “place of toil.”


But they chose to call it melodious harmony, bright peace.


The optimism of their choice reverberates through the years.



Jerome was my final stop. It was the last of the camps to open, the first to close.


The memorial is disappointingly small, just a single stone obelisk with an inscription. There are a few typos, and I feel a pull in my stomach when I read them over.


It stands next to the road to someone’s house, it’s basically in their front yard. I wonder if they’ve ever read it, if they think about its meaning when they pass it every day. But to them it’s probably been normalized, little more than a corner signpost or a flagpole in front of a school.


I look at the field where so many people lived, and wonder if there’s something more I should feel, something I’m supposed to think, some prayer I’m supposed to pray.


A truck rumbles by and breaks me from my thoughts.


The road back to California is long.