The Night Watchman

W. Todd Kaneko


My grandfather shakes the doors

after the merchants have closed

for the night. It’s Chinatown,

despite the varying shades of brown

in the dark, the difference between

a clucking tongue and the swivel of guns.

My grandmother walks with him, the clack

of her heels echoing through greasy alleys,

across railroad tracks. He cannot guard

his streets against unexploded bombs,

his family against stories people tell under

the sway of war. My grandfather shakes

every door so his wife will know

they are safe.




After the war, my grandfather, unable

to cultivate his own land, searches for work

once other people’s gardens have succumbed

to Winter. His smile, a two-dollar-an-hour mark

betrays deep snarls in his back, bruises

on his knees. At camp, he lived with sinewy

winds on the Idaho plain, a fierce worry

clenched in his teeth, chattering in his bones.

My father is a boy who has not yet learned

this kind of fury. My grandmother cradles

his head, traces her pinky around his earlobe.

My grandfather listens to the news,

slips off to sleep next to the radiator.




The chicken feels no sting after

the slaughter—my grandfather’s hands

twist the bird from ankles to neck.

During the war, he kept peace at camp.

kept his own barracks safe from the wolves.

Now that the coops are emptied,

he plucks the animals clean of feathers,

scoops them out head to tail.

He knows there is no such thing

as peace, no such thing as home

for a man without safety, for a man

without guts.




When my grandfather falls asleep

on the sofa each evening, his arms

rest heavy across his chest like

a supermarket bird, his giant hands

tucked away for protection.

My father brews a pot of tea,

tells me to turn down the television

as my grandfather dreams of new

orchards, of peaches tumbling ripe

from branches to alight unbruised

in baskets by the back door.

My grandmother sits, her tiny hands

in her lap. Have the wings always been

the most useless parts of a chicken?




My grandmother peers through the blinds,

strange eyes straining to see people

on unfamiliar city streets. My grandfather rests

light in that cardboard box full of ashes

in her living room next to an orange

and a candle stub. When her front door

rattles after sunset, she gazes at a photograph

of her husband, handsome in his dark suit.

She turns on the radio as he gazes back.

W. Todd Kaneko
W. Todd Kaneko

W. Todd Kaneko lives and writes in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His work has appeared in Bellingham Review, Los Angeles Review, Southeast Review, Lantern Review, NANO Fiction, the Collagist, Blackbird, and elsewhere. He has received fellowships from Kundiman and the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop. He teaches at Grand Valley State University. Visit him at