What Is This?

by Jeffrey Miller

"Kore wa nan desu-ka?" my Sensei points to the sentence in my textbook. "Repeat. Kore wa nan desu ka?"

I find comfort in simple questions that ask, "What is this?" "Kore wa nan desu-ka?"

These foreign words roll off my tongue easier than I thought, but this is only day one and Hiroko Sensei, who has the patience of a monk, has been generous with her praise. She smiles at my progress; the language I've acquired in our first lesson. My concentration is broken briefly by the ominous sound of these huge black birds squawking and cawing outside. I look out the window and watch two elderly women dig up onions in the moist, black soil. Schoolchildren in bright yellow raincoats march down the glistening street to an elementary school.

During World War II, bombers destroyed much of this city. That much I know. I return to my textbook, waiting for the next cue, the next bit of language she will teach me and wonder if someone in her family died in the war. In one of my college history classes, we watched a documentary about the war; I can still hear the voice-over in my head. "B29's struck terror from the skies above; entire cities laid to waste by air superiority."

Tokyo, Yokohama, Hiroshima, Nagasaki—names just as exotic sounding as they are lasting epitaphs for war, death, and destruction.

"Kore wa nan desu-ka?"

I hope I never have to answer Sensei what my grandfather did in the war.

BIO: Originally from LaSalle, Illinois, Jeffrey Miller has been living and teaching in Asia since 1989. His work has appeared in numerous journals and magazines, inlcuding A-Minor Magazine,  Boston Literary Magazine, Caper Literary Journal, Eunoia Review, Full of Crow, Grey Sparrow Journal, Orion headless, Short, Fast, and Deadly, Thunderclap and the Toasted Cheese Literary Journal.  His first novel, War Remains, a novel about the Korean War is now available at Lulu and Amazon. He can be found online at www.jeffreymillerwrites.com and www.jeffreyalanmiller.wordpress.com as well as his blog for his novel www.warremains.blogspot.com.