A Modern Fairy Tale

She didn’t want to marry, not at 16, not ever—
such music she had heard coming from the piano
of the girl-next-door, such tall white cakes
baked in the white family’s kitchen of the grand

colonial house with its hardwood floors and
parlor rooms. Her misfortune: her beauty, her husband’s
status as second son. So she scrubbed her in-laws’ floors,
cooked their meat, dined on their charitable crumbs,

while her husband spoke the silent language
of men to their duty and station, and she,
pregnant with their first, spoke the silent language
of the body, refusing to bloom. To the cousin,

she whispered fears that would not quiet, like
a mouse living inside a wall, as she counted
backwards, knowing, not knowing. The child lived
three days. She named her Hatsuko or first born.




Derek Otsuji teaches English at Honolulu Community College. His work has appeared in Atlanta Review, Crab Orchard Review, Monarch Review, Poet Lore, and Word Riot.