National Poetry Month Spotlight: Larry Matsuda

……………..for Karen
Two-tone Parisian sirens blare
across the Seine,
trumpet the American war in Iraq.
I emerge from the Metro.
Sunlight shining
on red Newsstand headlines,
Irak, C’est la Guerre.
I speak broken French,
chat in Japanese,
whisper in English,
an easy disguise
for one born in Minidoka.
One hundred motorcycles
circle the Right Bank,
relentless phalanx
holds Rue de Rivoli hostage.
Thunder hammers the pavement,
shakes the massive cleaning balls
that once rammed
down sewers combating Black Death,
rattling the bones of  six million
shelved like volumes
of a dusty human library
in the catacombs.
La Marseillaise, a patriotic call to arms,
stirs spirits from subterranean Paris,
like the Arc de Triomphe
surfacing in a sea of honking taxis.
Winged Victory with a gaping mouth,
furies atop her head, sword in hand,
exhorts volunteers to glory.
I am an American Odysseus
tempted by sirens—for a moment I resist
raising my fist against America, against war.  Then
remember Minidoka barbed wire and Idaho desert.
Cinch a red bandana around my forehead.
My short gray hair no longer
falls black to shoulders.
Spirits draw me into this Parisian riptide.
I am one of many boiling
and churning in a river
of humanity marching
the Right Bank chanting:
…………Paris contre la guerre.
…………Paris contre la guerre.

I stand for the old America,
home of the Japanese-American
442 purple heart battalion,
that wins fame as the wedge
that drives through Nazi lines .
I become an ex-patriot,
follow Richard Wright, James Baldwin,
and Langston Hughes.
Bathe under a golden waterfall
of liberty and fraternity
in the shadow of Notre Dame.
Luxuriate in Parisian canyons
near the Champs Elysee.
Shed my skin like an underwater
snake at the Moulin Rouge.
Watch the translucent membrane
flutter into the chanting crowd
to the sewers of Paris.
Without this inflexion of skin, my eyes
fall away from their sockets
as in the catacombs.
I wake like a dreamer
from slumber and see
the world through Monet and Degas.
I am a pond of deep blue,
a shimmering ballet dancer.
I am the Winged Victory with furies
shouting to my fellow marchers:
En  Amerique, Je suis Japonais.
En  Paris, Je suis Americain
contre la guerre.

Q: Do you remember where you were and what you were doing on the day you wrote the above poem?

A: I returned home from Paris after the US invasion of Iraq and looked at photos I took.  The first photo was a red newspaper headline by a Metro entrance which read: “Irak, C’est la Guerre”. The next was a  large sign in a public square, “Paris Contra la Guerre”.  In my mind, I began to hear the demonstrators chant as they marched down Rue de Rivoli, “Paris Contra La Guerre” and recalled the underground sewer tour, the sequined dancer with a boa constrictor at the Moulin Rouge, statue of the Winged Victory with furies atop her head and Monet’s blue ponds.

Q: What is the last book you’ve read that made you want to grab a pen and write?

A: I was inspired to grab a pen after reading Water the Moon by Fiona Sze-Lorrain — Marick Press Michigan. It is a magic carpet ride that gently circles the earth — touching down in strange and exotic places that exude romance and wonder.

Q: What is the most sublime meal you’ve ever eaten?

A: Last night Karen, my wife, and I shared a King Salmon dinner with Tess Gallagher (poet), Jay Rubin (translator for Haruki Murakami), his wife Raku (a writer and potter) and Jay’s son, Gen (a composer). After dinner Tess read a poem dedicated to Edith Piaf that appeared on-line in Cerise Press.Com. We sipped Jackson Triggs Ice wine and Rotta Black Monukka desert wine late into the evening telling stories while a recording of Edith Piaf played in the background.

Larry Matsuda is the author of A Cold Wind from Idaho, which will be available for purchase this spring on Black Lawrence Press.

(Photo Credit: Tara Gimmer)