Rick Noguchi

With Her at All Times Ethel Nakano Carried a Sledgehammer

Everywhere she went, she swung the mallet with ease.
She never knew when she might need it.
At the supermarket, the bank, the autoclub, she kept
The tool nearby waiting for that exact moment
When a sledgehammer was necessary.
The occasions in which excessive pounding was required.
If a door needed to be forced open, Ethel Nakano was ready.
The instrument was a natural extension of her,
The long wood handle and solid iron head were a limb,
Another appendage, only very heavy on one end.



Ethel Nakano with her sledgehammer was endowed.
She was not at all large or burly, but well equipped she was
With centrigual force behind her. She could wreck easily
A hairdryer or an oven, a stone wall or a car,
In just one, maybe two, exacting blows.
She had the strength of gravity and she used it skillfully.
One hand gripping the base of the handle, the other
Choked up near the throat, she lifted the mallet above
Her head, then let the weight drop down to find its target.
This talent for smashing took her years to cultivate.


When she walked through town with her tool in hand,
Ethel Nakano appeared much taller, more threatening
Than she really was. But people who knew her knew
She was not a dangerous person. She was just
A kind woman, a good citizen, who welcomed
The opportunity to give a solid whack, the chance to slam
Her sledgehammer against another object.
Indeed, Ethel Nakano was often too quick on the draw.
A mishap once occurred after she heard
That a neighborhood cat was trapped in a mailbox.


While there was no celebrated rescue that day,
The damage she did is a permanent reminder to all
That Ethel Nakano was capable of destruction.



“With Her at All Times Ethel Nakano Carried a Sledgehammer” appeared in Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation (University of Illinois Press, 2004).