After Ten Years, I Return to the Southeast Botanical Gardens in Okinawa

Okinawa is an incredibly special place to me. When I was growing up, my dad’s work brought him here. In my kid-mind, this place was a perfect ideal escape from everything I hated about America, and it was where we would travel all together as a family and spent time together. It resonated with my internal sense of culture clash: Okinawa is not exactly Japanese, not exactly American, but is influenced by these cultures on top of its Ryukyu kingdom roots. But as I travelled years later with my husband, I realized just how much I’d utopia-ized Okinawa, only knowing its touristy facade and not intimately knowing it for its complex, rich culture. This poem is one of my attempts to (in part) call myself out for this mindset, but to also see the reality of how things change over time and can’t remain in that perfect state of memory.

Between the Alexander palm trees,
plain white clay cows stand, frozen
mid-grazing. You can pay
300 yen to paint one,
but only on sunny days.
They weren’t here before—
I would’ve remembered.

Today, no one is feeding
the Agu pigs. An eisa folk song
I used to sing as a girl
loops off the intercom,
haisais and ha iya sasa
shouts echo into all that empty green.

I don’t remember the locked
pavilions or sun-faded posters. How tired
the walls of the parking lot look
with their outdated signage.
What happened to the crowds
waiting in line to take the trolley?
Are they all in Okinawa World,
Naha, some other tourist trap?
Walking off the path, I find
a time capsule of old bathrooms,
boarded up and buried
by Jurassic-looking leaves.

We live
so briefly. I am no longer
the girl who stayed here,
a stranger in this island
and this body. Even the garden
gets old. Will it still be here
next time I come?

It starts to rain, so we wait
in the new gift shop, eating gelato.
Outside, the rain washes off paint,
makes bare
a field of cow sculptures.

Meg Eden is a 2020 Pitch Wars mentee, and teaches creative writing at Anne Arundel Community College. She is the author of the 2021 Towson Prize for Literature winning poetry collection Drowning in the Floating World (Press 53, 2020) and children’s novels, most recently Selah’s Guide to Normal (Scholastic, 2023). Find her online at or on Twitter at @ConfusedNarwhal.