Todd Kaneko


W. Todd Kaneko lives and writes in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His stories and poems can be seen in Puerto Del Sol, Crab Creek Review, Fairy Tale Review, Los Angeles Review, Southeast Review, Blackbird, and elsewhere. He has received fellowships from Kundiman and the Kenyon Review Writer’s Workshop. He teaches at Grand Valley State University.

Reading Comprehension 12: The Crane Wife

It’s never too early to remember she is gone, like that morning the fisherman must cook breakfast for himself—a sliver of eel on a nest of rice. He will wish his plate held something more elegant, like geese cloaked in the rushes or a house full of clean air for clean people. He spent the previous day on the river, casting his net alongside other men in search of fat trout or ingots of gold—something to remind him of how he once lived. He does not remember eyeing seagulls circling overhead, their selfish cries piercing the air like jagged beaks through placid waters. He does not remember the previous week, that loom covered in silk and feathers taunting him until he pitched it into the marsh to be consumed by cattails. It’s never too late for old romance, for absent-minded men to capture earthbound birds longing for migration. He will not remember that exchange of talons for sewing needles, that sacrifice of flight for a threadbare mattress. He will pack his suitcase full of filament and bait. He will move to a new village in search of a house where he can forget about thunderstorms, broken wings, and that mysterious young woman with beautiful hands.

Question: What doesn't this fisherman remember?

a) There are no such things as feathers, only desire for nests.
b) A windowless room is no substitute for the sky.
c) There is no such thing as home.

Reading Comprehension 30: Peach Boy

Every entrance is an exit, but when that woman discovers an infant in a strange piece of fruit, she does not wonder if there is a rumpled bit of blanket left in a distant crib, a hollow throat that chokes when a bough once laden with blossoms is reduced to kindling. Every exit is a spark, so when a magical boy strikes out to retrieve rubies hidden in faraway lands, his mother will smolder for years in the peach groves. He might wage war on witches and ogres, gather their babies and pitch them all into a bonfire. He might challenge the atom bomb to a contest of illumination. Every spark is a hope for flame, so when that boy fails to return home, the orchards will be bursting with new creatures: burned monkeys, wingless pheasants, dogs who sing sad songs in hoarse voices. Explain to that woman how her children are a bestiary for someone else’s story, how mooncalves emerge squirming in edible places. Hope is a stone forsaken by long-extinct flora—it lies heavy in the palm like moonlight, delicate like an infant’s skull. Watch her plant it in dry soil and linger to see what might sprout.

Question: What is a stone?

a) A jewel for the blind.
b) A pomegranate full of healthy animals.
c) A tiny shrine for the abandoned.
d) Nothing.

I was trying to write a haibun, experimenting with the way that the prose section works with the haiku at the end. I started thinking about those reading comprehension questions on standardized tests—how the answer stares you in the face as the question tries to misdirect you. Sometimes the right answers are not the correct answers. Sometimes there are no good answers and you have to deal with it. Kinda like a poem.