National Poetry Month Spotlight: Lawrence Matsuda
Here at Black Lawrence Press we are celebrating National Poetry Month with a poem a day, featuring a total of 30 authors from our list. Today’s featured poet is Lawrence Matsuda, author of A Cold Wind From Idaho.
Nazi Death Train, 1943
Under a French full moon,
the Bordeaux Express flies
a crooked German flag.
Wheels screech and spark.
Helmeted Nazi guards leap,
gravel flies as jack boots skid,
wool overcoats flutter like capes in the night.
Mauser carbines held at the ready,
cattle car chains rattle.
Human cargo falls silent.
Overlooking the tracks,
six year old Arlette shivers, holds
her breath, stretches hat over eyes.
She and grandfather
nest in tall grass.
Like an electric shock, a white flash
on the hill catches a Nazi eye.
Arlette’s grandfather rolls her,
blots underwear from sight.
Flashlight beams pierce blackness
seeking the patch of white,
pointed bullets locked and loaded.
The guard’s thoughts drift:
Comforting summer grass,
bed where and he and his lover curl.
Her underwear gleams like a beacon to outer space.
Soft lips press and silk stockings beg to be free.
He dreams of warm stone hearths,
dinner tables set in expectation, welcoming arms,
lovers embracing. In this world,
all soldiers come home safely even
in the darkest night.
Arlette’s goose bumps rage,
train piston rods muscle
iron wheels with a chug
and steam blast.
Guards snag handrails,
swing and leap
like trapeze flyers
onto metal platforms.
Clouds smother the moon,
tomorrows will be better
than yesterdays when
worker bees flee to honey domes,
starlings squabble in fig trees—
Arlette opens a suitcase,
presses her mother’s
white lace wedding dress
to her cheek.
Lawrence 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, and visiting professor at Seattle University (SU).
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, 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).