National Poetry Month Spotlight: Lawrence Matsuda

Welcome to National Poetry Month, 2016! We’re celebrating all month long. Each day we will bring you a poem we love–a selection from one of our published or forthcoming collections.

Today’s featured poet is Lawrence Matsudaauthor of A Cold Wind From Idaho.
A Cold Wind From Idaho by Lawrence Matsuda The Noble Thing
Dad never talked about Minidoka.
That was the noble thing.
Before World War II,
there was Garfield High School for him,
ice skating on Greenlake,
dances at Lake Wilderness Lodge,
later his ownership of Elk Grocery
on Seneca Street.
He and my mother were
married in 1941,
ten months later to be removed
…forced… into the Minidoka concentration camp.
Mom was five months pregnant in August
with my older brother, Alan.
With black-out curtains drawn, the train
left Puyallup and climbed the Cascade mountains
until the land flattened and the inescapable sun
transformed the train cars into a moving sauna.
People gasped small, panicked breaths
from the superheated air.
Shikataganai—“It can’t be helped.”
The train stopped by the side of an unmarked road
in the Idaho desert, released
its passengers miles from any station.
Rumors spread they would be shot
or marched to death – their bodies stacked, then
carted to some awaiting ditch.
Nowhere to run, they walk in their best shoes
in the gritty sand as on the face of the moon.
The heat caused some to faint
as they carried all they could.
Three years later, Dad returned
to Seattle after the War,
developed a bleeding ulcer,
lost his janitor job at the Earl Hotel.
Depression took Mom away
like invisible armed guards.  She was
a stranger—a stick-like figure with arms
and legs poking out of a white smock,
pacing the sidewalk next
to the Western State Hospital turn-around.
Dad never talked about it, none of it.
I never heard him say the word Minidoka….
Gaman, “endure the unbearable with dignity.”
Shikatagani, my best friend’s mother chose pills for suicide.
After school, Randy my neighbor, opened the garage door
and found his father in a black suit, his best, hanged
by the neck, shikatagani, the same path other
Seattle Japanese chose—
numbers unknown.   Shikataganai.
We, however, never talked about it.
That was the noble thing to do.
lmalfLawrence Matsuda was born in the Minidoka, Idaho Concentration Camp during World War II.
He and his family were among the approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese held without due process for approximately three years or more.   Matsuda has a Ph.D. in education from the University of Washington and was: a secondary teacher, university counselor, state level administrator, school principal, assistant superintendent, educational consultant, visiting professor at Seattle University, school design consultant, poet and author.
In 2005, he and two SU colleagues co-edited the book, Community and difference: teaching, pluralism and social justice, Peter Lang Publishing, New York. It won the 2006 National Association of Multicultural Education Phillip Chinn Book Award. In July of 2010, his book of poetry entitled, A Cold Wind from Idaho was published by Black Lawrence Press in New York. His poems appear in Ambush Review, Raven Chronicles, New Orleans Review, Floating Bridge Review, Black Lawrence Press website, Poets Against the War website, Cerise Press, Nostalgia Magazine, Plumepoetry, Malpais Review, Zero Ducats, Surviving Minidoka (book), Meet Me at Higos (book), Minidoka-An American Concentration Camp (book and photographs), Tidepools Magazine, Correspondencias, and the Seattle Journal for Social Justice.

In addition, eight of his poems were interpreted in a 60 minute dance presentation entitled, Minidoka performed by Whitman College students in Walla Walla, Washington (2011).
His new book of poetry, Glimpses of a Forever Foreigner, was released in August of 2014. It is collaboration between Matsuda and artist Roger Shimomura who contributed 17 original sketches. In 2015, Matsuda collaborated with artist, Matt Sasaki, and produced two graphic novels: An American Hero -Shiro Kashino and Fighting for America: Nisei Soldiers available through the Nisei Veterans Committee Foundation or the Wing Luke Museum. In April 2016 his collaborative book of poems with Tess Gallagher will be released, entitled Boogie Woogie Criss-Cross, published by Madhat Press.