Eightfold Chant

By Brian Komei Dempster
Church of broken toasters and singed fuses,
church of the dripping roof and chipped chimney stack,
of the flooded garage and its split door,

gas-hissing pipes and sibilant water heaters,
church of piss-poor light and shaky ladders
where I unchoke windows and dislodge chopsticks

from pipes, smooth curled up wallpaper and key the locks,
fix clocks sticking or ticking with different times,
church where wings of dead flies drift like petals

from cobwebs, ghosts sift through floorboards
and the homeless sleep in compost, steeping like tea bags
pungent from the leaves' damp weight.

Church where I am summoned by the door's clatter of brass
to the brown-toothed vagrant who spreads open
her overcoat; to the chattering man who communes
with pines and brooms the stairs; to the bent, old Japanese woman
who forgets her keys, waits for me to twist the lock free
so she can scrub floors with Murphy wood soap

and a toothbrush, wobble atop a ladder and polish the two-ton bell.
On this path I am my uncle setting cubes of cheese into jaws
of traps, and my grandmother stirring peas into a pan of fried rice,
and my grandfather padding the halls in slippers and gloves,
the cold globes of his breath a string of prayer beads
weaving me, a mixed-blood grandson, into them.

Brian Komei Dempster, "Eightfold Chant" from Topaz. Copyright © 2013 by Brian Komei Dempster.  Reprinted by permission of Four Way Books.

Source: Topaz (Four Way Books, 2013)

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Poet Brian Komei Dempster

Subjects Relationships, Family & Ancestors

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 Brian Komei Dempster


Poet Brian Komei Dempster earned a BA at the University of Washington and an MFA at the University of Michigan.
In his debut poetry collection, Topaz (2013), Dempster engages the difficult legacy of his family’s World War II imprisonment within an American internment camp. In a 2014 review of Topaz for Nichi Bei, Tim Yamamura noted, “As a collection of poems, Topaz complicates Asian American master narratives focusing on . . .

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SUBJECT Relationships, Family & Ancestors

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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