National Poetry Month Spotlight: Lawrence Matsuda

Woman Who Paints with Fire
                        For Etsuko Ichikawa
Pot of green tea steams
near a porcelain cup,
but no one is there.
Seven year old Etsuko
slides Aida sensei’s studio door.
The room is a hive, a bear’s den,
magician’s lair littered
with worn paint brushes
and rice paper stacked
on dusty shelves.
Etsuko runs her fingers across
brown horse hair brushes.
Dust flies and sparkles in shafts
streaming through windows—
magical sparks, fireflies.
Small spirits shift,
their eyes follow her as she examines
the folding chair, worn table,
wooden floor and paints.
Otosan* hangs a western suit
he crafts from blue gabardine
milled in Kyoto.
Otosan, Etsuko asks, where is Aida sensei?
Her father smiles and says,
sometimes artists become invisible.
He places his index finger to his lips,
points to a small sliding door,
where Aida sensei hides when
he wishes not to be disturbed.
Walking the cobblestones home, Otosan asks,
What did you seeDid you notice the shadows,
patterns on the floor, steam rising from the teapot
and smell freshness flushing out the musty air?
At home in Tokyo,
Etsuko and her family
stand at the upstairs’ window,
stare into the sunset, draw pictures.
They laugh out loud—
Etsuko sketches a cat on a fence,
Otosan the clouds and Okasan** tree shadows.
Etsuko begins her spirit journey
as a young woman.
She dreams of Aida sensei’s
hiding place, her mind wanders
into the  imaginary lair,
where sweet musk inhabits.
Fireflies drive her from hiding,
teach her secrets –-how heat transforms,
how to wield a molten wand like a samurai.
Ten years later and five
thousand miles away,
her arms grow weary
twirling fiery orange globes
in a green Northwest rain forest.
Etsuko’s body remembers
soul patterns Otosan taught—
how light strikes the floor,
fabrics fall—bunch, drape
and rise in glowing bursts.
Like a goddess she
whirls molten rivers in her orbit
and singes wave patterns into glass.
Her fire creations begin
with a prayer, meditation,
and a memory:   of when
she stands with her family
at the window upstairs,
coaxing the sunset onto paper
soaking with carmine and royal blue
impulse to impulse reds and yellows
to help a sunset linger on her page.
* Otosan is father
** Okasan is mother
Q: What is your writing process?
A: I tell stories, like images in a movie.  I begin with the specific ( pyramid shaped) and build out and down.  It is not like a news article where the pyramid is inverted and the main idea is on top with details flowing down.  I try to work on the emotional level so that the poem has universal appeal.
Q: Is there an exciting poet (emerging or established) whose work you just discovered this year?
A: Liliana Ursu’s A Path to the Sea (Pleasure Boat Studio:  A Literary Press, 2011).
Q: If you could go on a one-week writing retreat anywhere in the world, where would you travel?
A: I would select Hawaii for a retreat

Lawrence Matsuda was born in the Minidoka, Idaho Concentration Camp during World War II.  That event is something that has influenced his life, art, and career. Matsuda has recently completed an unpublished poetry manuscript related to Minidoka and is also writing a novel.