Lawrence Matsuda and Tess Gallagher: “Blue Cocoon”

Lawrence Matsuda and Tess Gallagher: “Blue Cocoon”
March 21, 2016 Plume

“Blue Cocoon” is a collaboration between Tess Gallagher and Lawrence Matsuda. The entire book (three sections), entitled Boogie-Woogie Crisscross, is the first production of Plume Editions – for more details see the Editor’s Note in this issue, and/or the April Newsletter. Below is a brief introductory exchange between the poets, moderated by Associate Editor for Special Projects Nancy Mitchell – who wants you to know that she found the poets as engaging, personally, as their work.






NM:    I’m intrigued with the shifting and recurring perspective, tone and imagery within each of the individual poems and consistent across each of the three sections of Boogie-Woogie Crisscross. In Section I—“Pow Pow Shalazam,” Section II— “Wild Haired-Labyrinth Renga” and the final Section III—“Blue Cocoon,” the recurring imagery particularly seems to create a constellation of sorts, a coordinate by which this Crisscross might have been charted…maybe a Boogie-Woogie Starcross of sorts?


LM:     No title change at this late date. It is too embedded in the work and “Starcross”seems like it is something ill fated like star-crossed lovers.


NM:    You’re right, of course; and I wouldn’t presume to suggest another title—my comment was as result of the feature’s contagious mischief and zaniness Tess mentions.


TG:     Each of the sections has a different tempo and central concern although as in the dance ‘Boogie-Woogie’ we swing each other wide and wild at times, trying to challenge each other’s balance and come-back.  Blue Cocoon’s central image comes from a painting by Josie Gray, my Irish companion of 24 years now.  When we carried the painting which is named Blue Cocoon to show the Irish painter Sean McSweeny, Sean commented on the fact of the blue in the painting not receding as blue is suppose to do when used correctly.  In fact, what I loved was the unmannerly levitation of that blue.  And some other unmannerly elements come forward, such as the Irish company, following their host, picking up their dessert dishes and licking the cream from them!  So there is mischief and zaniness and the notion that rules are being broken in a jubilant way. Josie, who never went to art school, doesn’t mind if his blue refuses to recede.


NM:    Yes! I love this!


TG:      Earlier sections like “Pow Pow” dipped in and out of comic book language and car lingo and the drive-in-movie era. The style is careening like on a carnival ride, veering this way and that. “Wild-Haired Labyrinth Renga” is perhaps the most political section as it deals with the death of an Indian immigrant woman by sepsis due to misconceived Irish laws which failed to consider the life of the mother during birth.  The woman did not receive correct attention after the child was allowed to die within her, and she died.  Her husband recently settled with the hospital and the Irish health board for an undisclosed amount of money, and the case never came to trial.


NM:    Correct me if I’m mistaken, but you began the first section in 2011, the second in 2013, and the final recently?


LM:     No is the answer–The sections are purposely out of chronological order.  “Pow Pow” in 2011, “Wild Haired” in 2013-15 and “Blue Cocoon” was completed in 2015.


TG:       Yes, Larry is correct here, that we placed “Blue Cocoon” between our first section and our second.  We liked the feel of it there, incubating between the two snap crackle and pop sections. In the book the order is  “Pow Pow”, “Blue” and then “Wild”.  “Blue” because “Blue”, the most recent and shortest, fit best in the middle.


NM:    You both gave yourself permission to respond spontaneously, directly to each other’s poems, which creates a delightfully immediate and playful tone.  Did you ever go back to these original responses and revise them?


LM:     “Wild Hair” was revised more than 28 times and the others were in the teens for revisions.

TG:     As Larry says there was a long process of revision since the poems were published first in PLUME on line and we proofed them for that even after we had worked exhaustively on our own with them.  Although the poems were conceived in a spontaneous way, they were worked over to a close finish.


NM:    Did you find yourself challenged by this process?


LM:     The process was not a challenge because it was like sending emails.  The challenge was responding to Tess in a fresh fashion so that new and interesting ground was covered that was entertaining, informative, and as real as poetry can be in terms of telling a story without becoming didactic.


TG:   I think the fun and challenge was, as Larry says—to come back to each other’s work with something engaging and yet that would move the exchange forward.  Larry had to educate himself to the entire political event of the death I mention above which stimulated a change in Irish law as regards childbirth wherein the mother’s life receives equal concern as the unborn child’s now.  In “Blue Cocoon” we had to take in several developments concerning islands that came to be devoted to singular purposes like importing a population of cats to kill mice to protect the silk worms, and on another island rabbits who became feral when exposed to poison gas during war-making experiments.  Islands within islands became a topic.  And this section is also a kind of island within the other two sections.


NM:    How do you feel the tone and perspective of these exchanges evolved/morphed/changed over time?


LM:     I would say the first poems were more of me as “little brother” bothering my older sister.  But very quickly I pushed forward to gain ground and occupy a more level playing field.   But I never was able to maintain that position as the next response from Tess was like a tidal wave coming in.  So after each wave I gave ground and ventured out again as the tide receded.   My determination was the core theme from my point of view. But I never could declare victory except that the exchange made me grow as a poet under the tutelage of the master.

 TG:    I love Larry’s game revivals of spirit and subject matter each time he responded to a poem from me.   Whatever I could bring forward he took on with vigor and audacity.  He is a fighter for women’s rights and for those who plunder our procreative gifts and use outdated laws to bind us into untenable bargains set by religion or laws which in Ireland made it against the law to use contraception in 1935.  I also came into his corner when he brings forward elements of his birth in Minidoka and the many losses and humiliations the Japanese American people suffered during the unlawful incarcerations of WWII.

I’d say we had a rollick in these poems, but they have their serious undertow, which is possible because the tone is of the dance and doesn’t allow the reader to sidestep the business at hand.


NM:    Yes, indeed; a rollick, a wild ride, a whirl, but with a serious undertow as a ballast.


TG:     The beat and the avalanche speed of the poems whirl forward, sweeping all before them, scooping up a more than normal amount of material.  I think one of the things the poems display is just how wide reaching a series of poems can be.  We hopefully learn a lot about Irish and American points of view and concerns, but not with too heavy a hand!


NM:    Tess and Larry thank you; “Blue Cocoon,” PLUME’s final installment of Boogie-Woogie Crisscross is an amazing, unforgettable ride! Readers, fasten your seat belts!



Tess Gallagher, Lawrence Matsuda, Nancy Mitchell – March 2016


Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 1.27.59 PM







“Blue Cocoon”. 9” x 11”. 2014. Josie Gray.






Section I—Pow Pow Shalazam

Section II—Wild Haired-Labyrinth Renga

Section III—Blue Cocoon


Below is the last installment of the series. The entire book (three sections) is Boogie-Woogie Crisscross, forthcoming from MadHat Press, 2016.



Blue Cocoon (From Larry to Tess)


In Ballindoon, lambing over

and hay bailed high,

Josie wears his red shirt

as he drives to your County Sligo cottage.


After 40 years some call you Yank or blow-in,

woman with perfect eyebrows,

who attracts gold finches, coal tits, and chaffinches

to a pastoral scene overflowing with bird calls and songs.

Hedge cats skulk like Serengeti lions, nose


your milk dish in anticipation. The two Eileens up the road

brew pots of Lyons or Barry’s tea, expect you at their door

before Josie’s family reunion where you claim your place

among his clan: sons, daughters, grandchildren, great grandchildren,

and his late wife’s memory.


In Portland, Oregon I rise in my hotel room,

pillows strewn helter-skelter,

scene reminiscent of marshmallows floating

in a hell’s broth. I recall our mutual friend, Alfredo,

who lands in Portland like a shanghaied sailor

unable to remember anything beyond

his Blue Moon Tavern binge in Seattle the night before.

Alfredo’s adventure rivals the night he stacked


two unsecured paintings on the roof of his car,

navigated hills under the influence

and pin-balled down Ravenna Avenue.

His canvases must have sprouted Edvard Munch-like

expressionist arms and hands to grip their extraterrestrial

mosaic faces in fear as they screamed all the way home.


I discover Portland is a carnival wonderland where

bacon drapes maple bars and pretzels impale chocolate

voodoo doll donuts filled with raspberry blood.

Food-cart shantytowns sprout in downtown parking lots,


gypsy chuck wagon villages, magnet for hordes of lip-smacking,

khaki-clad office workers and itinerant street musicians.

As a visitor I search for the Yin and Yang

of Portland’s vibe, only to dodge

snares where amplitude sine wave intersect

and outstretched hands release grocery baskets piled

with bursting garbage bags.

Gauntlet of medieval palms reach out to me.


To the beggars, I am a lump of protein

zigzagging a trespass across their sidewalk,

sidestepping invisible webs that snag coins

in a spare change geometrical world of angles.

Scrawled message dangles from a liberated Safeway cart,

The last person who stole this cart, owns it.

From my ten story hotel room,

I open curtains to a miniature crime scene below—

life-size G.I. Joe toy action figure face-down—

twisted in a camouflage sleeping bag on the lip

of a vacant storefront.

No blood trails, blue police lights,

or crime tape, just a voyeuristic sense of peering

into private corners of a lost soul,

someone who in a different reality might have

killed enemies who looked like me.


In the morning I embark on an urban fishing adventure—

bind a net and two spinning rods,

pull a red Igloo Cooler strapped to a luggage cart

past food trailers and the Chinatown Gate

to the esplanade on the Willamette River’s east bank.

My cart clack-clacks, echoes

through the homeless cardboard shanties in rhythm

with tires whining on bridge grates above.

Below the Burnside Street overpass,


glowing eyes track me like prey.

My designer glasses or yellow skin mean nothing here,

only the sound of rattling wheels—passport

to polite nods of recognition as if I were

a lost brother seeking the cathedral built for myself.


Tess, when lambing is over and hay is

wrapped in plastic like giant jelly rolls

scattered across the shorn fields,

what rattles your wheels when Josie gathers

his clan around the evening hearth?





Cat Mountain (Response from Tess)


Polish coal rattles into the grate, signals

the ozone layer over Ballindoon that the EU’s tax

won’t snuff carbon fumes here any time

soon. Poverty, the great instructor, inhibits

change. Though overnight the Irish quit smoking

in pubs, they huddle to their open coal fires and will not

easily surrender them, even against taxes. These


are a people who ate grass during The Famine

to stay alive, and the old Chinese proverb says

if a person can chew roots they will be able

for anything.” I am among a people, Larry, able

for anything. I remind myself of this daily, watching

Mickey Moran head to the bog on his tractor

to haul out sticks to extend his coal fire. As for


shopping carts, it takes a 2€ piece to free one from

a locked chain of trolleys. Failing that you must shop small

with a hand basket. Make trips. Poverty puts good legs

on some. Helmeted bicyclists whizz past my windows as petrol

goes up. The moon could care less how we get around,


but I swear sleeping under the Sligo moon has swept my usual

dream-cargo free and cleared my spirit-realm of

festering.   Like sleeping under cherry blossoms,

a gentleness falls through me, sifts my proclivities

for connecting to the troubles of others, and stays

temporarily my need to bind up the world’s


miseries. Not to say I can’t be outraged

by daily ignorance: the Sligo doctor quoted as

saying he could not tell if his East Indian patient had jaundice

“because of her color.” At one report she has kidney failure,

the next she’s dying: Dhara whom her husband called:

“the light of my life.” That light snuffed a few days after

her boy was delivered by caesarian. The inquest witnesses


her relegated to a maternity ward instead of ICU,

though she presented with “more than two organs in

failure”. Bloods drawn, but not read. Doctors in attendance

but no alarms to save her. The worried husband mollified

by a nurse, told to get his wife a lemonade if he wanted to help

her. Here, Larry, skin color is more than punitive

with daily humiliations; it can cost you your life.


The headline actually read: “We can’t tell if Dhara has

jaundice due to Indian skin.” I want to howl and crawl

into a hedge. I want to live on Cat Mountain, far from

such goings on. Though months have passed since I left

for America, Basho-cat has magically returned, perhaps

from Cat Mountain. I swear he raised a paw in a salute

of good luck, as I put down his dish of milk and fish.


I am worse than itinerant, more like a strange comet

that not only falls out of the sky but up

out of the ground! Not even a cat should depend

on me. Especially since I fell while gathering lake stones

for the garden and broke my wrist. The Japanese warning

not to move stones by daylight

comes back to me. I hug the roadway hedge

to Eileen Frazer’s only to find she’s in Sligo General


with a broken hip. Ahh we are such egg-shell manifestations,

such feverish migrations. It’s a wonder birds don’t

entirely desert us, we who infuse the day with spiritually illiterate

peckings and preenings. Only my great-granddaughter Jade

saves prospect. She paints a bracelet of flowers

and cats’ whiskers around my cast. The world needs more

of her. She can recite poetry and draw dogs


leading people around on collars to “Obedience School.”

On my cast I wear to the NY premier

of BIRDMAN she scribbles “Mummy Teresa,” gets the giggles,

then cartwheels into the hydrangea.   Oregon,

she says, is where you get “onto The Trail.” She’s

not sure if she would like “The Trail” but without it, she says,

nobody in America would have arrived anywhere

West. Most of all she’d like to meet an Indian. She’d trade


two magpie feathers for an eagle shaft, or

bargain black bogwood for a string of beads,

and be happy to go fishing with you, Larry. But you’d better

have something to trade. Remember she’s of the tribe

that chews roots, a mighty lot. You’ll recognize each other, your being

from the tribe that forages mushrooms among

sword ferns. She says she would rather

go to Cat Mountain though,

than to Oregon.










Cat Island and Bunny Town (Response from Larry)


While drift-fishing for King Salmon at Point Defiance,

I spot a floater, not a plastic bottle or Coke can but

a large black feather.   Feathers should sink

among crabs and mud sharks, not

bob on green waves. Since there are no flying turkeys,

it must be from the bald eagle I call Icarus.

Like World War I biplane fighters, crows

dive for Icarus’s tail feathers in flight,

harass and squawk defending their turf.

I examine the feather closely. No UPC codes,


made in Japan, China, or USA markings.

It is a magnificent quill pen, something Jefferson would have used

to sign the Declaration of Independence. Your great-granddaughter,

Jade, would have loved it, except it is a federal crime

to possess an eagle feather unless you’re a Native American. It carries

a $10,000 fine, amount that could free 4,000 Irish shopping carts

from their 2 Euro cages, depending on the currency exchange.


So I set the feather adrift with a short prayer of thanks and good wishes.

It swirls, then holds close for a moment, like the bottle-nose

porpoise who plays and follows me on occasion.

Gently the feather breaks free from my gravity

and floats like a happy wayfarer riding the currents

towards Vashon Island and Quartermaster Harbor

until it fades, a dot in the distance.

Tell Jade if I visit Ballindoon, I would take her


for a grocery cart ride past the pubs and stores in Boyle,

the nearest town. First I would liberate Josie’s red shirt,

then don black and white war paint, tie a scarlet bandana

around her forehead and place a Turkey feather in her auburn hair.

We would stop at every bakery, sweet shop, and tearoom,

feast on delicacies—not grass or roots,

then trundle towards the horizon and disappear

like a movie iris dot near Eileen’s cottage where


her tea pot waits, cradled in a salmon colored cozy.

I would tell stories about Tashirojima Island,

Japan, and how cats were shipped in to chase mice

that ravaged silk worm cocoons. When the company moved,

animals outnumbered villagers.

They had cared for the cats, hoping the felines

would bring good luck to the few remaining residents.


It was a scene reminiscent of the medieval Maneki Neko story—

cat who raised its paw in salute as a rich priest’s palanquin passed,

a sign the holy man should stop for the evening.

The poor village prospered when travelers learned

of the priest’s favor, spawning hordes of ceramic

Maneki Nekos and plastic charms to clutter Japan today.

Can you imagine an island governed by wily felines,


representing different independent parties?

You and Basho, the hedge cat, would be in heaven and I am sure the

cat citizens would be enlightened enough not to pass a coal tax.

Laws against dogs would serve better

even though none would ever have seen one.

This village should not be confused with Okunshina, the island

of feral rabbits, which Jade would like more than you and Basho.

Offspring of those used for poison gas experiments run free

after the plant closed. Tame and friendly they wander the island protected.


This twisted tale reminds me of a movie call for Japanese extras

I answered last week. They asked that I shave, bring a white shirt,

and a suit, only to stand around 8-10 hours for minimum wage.

I declined when I found the movie was about Japan winning

the war and occupying America.

That falseness meant my relatives in Hiroshima


and those in Nagasaki were never incinerated alive;

that the Japanese liberated us from American concentration

camps in the desert after 3 years of confinement; that we would have been

heroes and not the vanquished foe looking like the enemy after the war.

“Slightly jaundice” would be the preferred national skin color

and all property lost from our unjust incarceration would be returned.

Ironically this topsy turvey fantasy turned me inside out

and badly disrupted my psyche, unless, of course it was a comedy.

Alas, Tess, how many belly laughs can you pack in to a movie

about America losing the war?
















By the Sea (Response from Tess)


All afternoon in North Sligo lunching in the artist’s studio:

tubes of paint, tubs of Gesso, paintings

big enough to make your bed on.   Sean McSweeney

and his wife Sheila dancing the conversation from rugby to

the Peace Rose planted early in their marriage, rose devoured

by sheep. Orna, their daughter, reads

Akhmatova in Russian, serves apple tart with full


cream, the apples picked dewy from the orchard.

I smile conspiratorially, pick up

my plate, rediscover the tongue,

that neglected snail. Cats have nothing

on us, Larry. We lick cream. Blessed freedom

to sit at table with one’s grown friends in old age


and caress sweetness from a dessert plate.

The cats on Cat Island sit about all day licking only fur

while Chuang Tzu dreams he’s a butterfly mistaken

for a bird. “Wake up! Wake up!”

we shout. “Wake up and be a man or

be eaten or mauled to death!” Chuang Tzu flutters open

his eyes and loses his life


as a butterfly.   One less butterfly on Cat Island

makes no ripple on the indolence of cat multitudes

dreaming in sunshine. Meanwhile, the floating blue

at the center of Josie’s painting has perplexed

Sean who says “blue should always recede.”

But this frisky, ill-mannered blue levitates

as “Blue Cocoon,” asking us to tolerate its daring


masquerade as art plundering the rules of art, blue

successfully deluding itself it doesn’t have to lie down

to the artist’s brush.   Your refusal, Larry, to appear

in the movie slated to undo the outcome of WWII,

has kept mountains of history books from having to be

burned on street corners. Meanwhile Alejandro’s BIRDMAN

pecks the indolent money-pocked eyes of the Hollywood


Buddha, trying to generate more than cookie-cutter

heroes. Josie’s unruly blue raises its blue salute,

suggests we throw a party where we all lick

cream from white porcelain plates at a long table

by the sea—a blue-green sea that tosses waves

at Cat Island.   When asked to offer a story, an Irish custom

at occasions, I’ll tell of meeting the wizened man


near Lough Arrow who insisted I stroke

the breast feathers of his tethered hawk—after which

I quoted Wilfred Gibson:

Because I set no snare

But leave them flying free

All the birds of the air belong to me.


Those lines, committed to memory, free

a multitude, our minds floating out like music.


If we provoke the imagination of the captor, even

for a moment, Larry, he might wake up from his

power-dream to witness

a leather glove of cow’s hide flying his empty hand

away, away over the blue-green fields.




Island Within an Island (Response from Larry)


Chuang Tzu, dozing butterfly,

dreams of being a man.

Absent his vibrating wings,

the world spins sideways for a nano-second.

During a harmonic convergence,

rain storms meant for parched vineyards

of the San Joaquin Valley twist through Port Angeles

and the Straits of Juan de Fuca.


Wake up Chuang Tzu, your life is more than you think.


Like the sound of heavy cream slurped

from an apple tart plate in Ballindoon,

smacking lips and gulping conjure squeeze-box

rhythms of an Irish ballad pulsating from Josie’s brush,

spreading blue hues across the painting’s heart.

I recall gazing down at Campbell Lake from


Mt. Erie on Fidalgo Island where an island sits

in the center of blue like a watercolor painting, an island

within an island. As the wind rises over the cliff, I remember

what my first wife used to say,

No man is an island, Larry, except for you.


Instead of quoting Gibson when asked to offer up a story,

I visualize a sugar-frosted Easter egg decorated with pink swirls

and clear plastic viewing port with a diorama

of a miniature bride and groom. I am the white-haired minister

in a blue aloha shirt next to the mossy waterfall

in Kubota Gardens. We stand on the edge of a cliff

under a canopy of pine trees.   Anna’s Hummingbirds,

goldfinches and butterflies flutter in celebration. We are all

butterflies on the verge of morning.


Like an Irish sleepwalker Josie wields his brushes,

madly paints Tess’s Ballindoon cottage blue instead

of the promised white as she flies like an un-tethered hawk

over the Atlantic from Dublin.

Flap your butterfly wings, Chuang Tzu, parched

San Jaoquin hardpan and thirsty grapes beckon. Monarchs

cluster in the park, expect your entrance as the teapot whistles

a high pitched warning.

Stop your nodding and chase sleep from


the silkworm cocoon of your mind, wake from lazy dreams

of hammocks and Mulberry leaves. No longer

a sheltered worm, know you are

more than a Moon Pie treat, silent victim

of cat-lightning.









Tess Gallagher’s latest book Midnight Lantern: New and

Selected Poems (Graywolf ), was published 27 September, 2011.

Graywolf also published Dear Ghosts and Moon Crossing Bridge,

as well as other works, including her selected stories, The Man

from Kinvara. Her essay collections, A Concert Of Tenses and Soul

Barnacles, are also available from University of Michigan Press. She

recently companioned the film BIRDMAN, which includes one of

the short stories of her late husband, Raymond Carver: “What We

Talk About When We Talk About Love.” She became an encourager

of its director, Alejandro Inarritu, throughout work on the film, and

their friendship led to his mentioning her as he received four Oscars

for the film in 2015. She continued as companion to making of THE

REVENANT by Inarritu, sending him restorative poems to read

during the breaks in the arduous filming. The film won him the Best

Director Oscar for 2016 and two other awards went to his cinematographer

and to his main actor, Leonardo DiCaprio. She was present with Josie

Gray at the Premier in NYC where the film was welcomed.


She wrote “a poet’s introduction” to Marina Tsvetaeva: The

Essential Poems, translated by Michael Naydan and Slava Yastremski,

published in 2015. She lives and writes in Port Angeles, Washington, her

birthplace, as well as intervals spent in her cottage in the west of

Ireland, where all of the poems included here were written in her

chair that overlooks Lough Arrow and Jimmy Frazer’s green field in

County Sligo.


Lawrence Matsuda was born in the WWII Minidoka, Idaho,

War Relocation Center, an American concentration camp.

He was among the approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans

who were held without due process, some for three or more years.

Matsuda has a Ph.D. in education and was a visiting professor

at Seattle University. In 2005 he and two 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 2010 Black Lawrence Press published his

first book of poetry, A Cold Wind from Idaho. “Minidoka Fences”

also appeared in Cerise Press, Spring 2010, Vol. 1 Issue 3.


His new book, Glimpses of a Forever Foreigner, was released in

August of 2014. It is a collaboration between Matsuda and artist

Roger Shimomura. In 2015 he completed two graphic novels; part

one, An American Hero Shiro Kashino, was released in April and part

two, Fighting for America: Nisei Soldiers, was released in September

2015, published by Wing Luke Museum and Nisei Veterans

Committee Foundation in Seattle.