About the work:
In the late summer of 2011 Tess Gallagher and Lawrence Matsuda were e-mailing each other while she was in her cottage in Ireland and he was at home in Seattle. The exchanges evolved into a series of nine poems. The collaboration was like a poetry jam session where they traded and borrowed images, ran riffs on each other’s poems in a responsive, competitive, and lighthearted way.
Tess and I were sending e-mails in the summer of 2011 when she was in Sligo County Ireland and I was in Seattle. It occurred to me that twenty years from now no one would find our e-mails tucked away in a dusty attic box since electronic e-mails largely disappear into the ether. After seeing her book about kisses at Elliot Bay Books, I thought I would be a wise guy and challenge her to a poetic duel. So I sent her “Kisses” and her response was like a tennis slam. I was stunned and responded with humor since something serious would have surely been deadly. That reply begat another response and another. The exchange was like the karate pupil challenging the teacher—Daniel and Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid. I wondered, “As a challenger did I have the chops to go five rounds with Tess the champion?”
I have always been fascinated by reciprocality–that is, the way one thing happens and then responsiveness gets going that would never have occurred without that initial stimulation. In this I think Larry is responsible for getting things going. Without really proposing an exchange, he presented a very tasty poem that was invitation enough. I suddenly seemed only able to speak back to him in “poem”.
Writing towards Larry’s poems was not like writing to Larry. It was also beyond Larry. Although I know many things Larry likes–such as Marilyn Monroe and salmon fishing–I also seemed to be trolling for things I didn’t know about him. We both love salmon fishing and I go with my brother Tom each summer and fall and catch silvers & kings for my winter food in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
I hadn’t fully realized, however, Larry’s love of comics, but the poems discovered that. Anyhow, there was a snap crackle and pop to these exchanges. I felt faster and smarter than I know myself to be when writing towards Larry.
About Larry and me, we became friends through a mutual friend, the painter Alfredo Arreguin. I visited Alfredo and he handed me a manuscript Larry had left for him to show me. It was all about Minidoka, the internment camp in Idaho,…and how having been born there affected Larry and his family. I was so moved by those poems I physically could not move. Alfredo kept passing me at the table and saying: “That’s okay Tess. You don’t have to read every poem. Just read some so I can tell Larry you looked at it.” So our relationship actually began in paralysis. Poems that made me unable to put them down.
I thought of what we did in our exchange, which happened from Seattle to Ireland and back (I was in my cottage in Co. Sligo), as more freeing and playful and giddy even. Like a brother and a sister playing tag or daring each other. In any case, I loved every morning getting up and finding a new poem from Larry on my computer and composing right onto the computer, which I never do. Larry caused that as you just wanted to answer him as quickly as possible despite the 8 hour time difference. Because I was on the computer I started looking for information about Marilyn Monroe that might delight him and also about cars for which there is really a lot of lovely language. The poems compounded like a snow-woman, aggregations of crystals and melt-downs and freeze ups. They felt kind of hip and comic-book and jangly but also prickly with antennae, open to so much that I hadn’t known might be there. Mainly I’d say it was really a lot of fun. Poetry can get so serious, plodding around about death and lost love and failed this and that. Maybe what this sequence says is: Go out and play!”
Pow! Pow! Shalazam!
(The Challenge from Lawrence to Tess)
for Tess after finding her book
Between “F” and “H”
at Elliot Bay Books
I discover your
57 poems about kisses.
Were you on the book cover
in a 1955 Ford convertible
locked in a front seat embrace?
For an instant I become a voyeur–
Woman thrown back
in his arms,
skirt hiked up
where little buttons
snap elastic to nylons.
Half eaten popcorn bag askew
between the couple in
an American drive-in theatre,
stock image your editor picked.
The photo is the click-click
of dial phones, whacking
scent of goopy white-out,
and spinning vinyl LPs—
drive-in theatres with squirming lovers
in convertibles populate
American elephant graveyards.
Did the universe feel the void
of kisses as each screen
was eaten by tractors,
like fields of stars banished
from a torn down sky?
(Response from Tess)
~ What They Missed
was not the movie flickering
across rabbits and night-incubating
golf balls flown in from the course nearby, but
time’s inter-splicing of trespass ennobling
the shortcomings of clothing as a dampening
effect on teenage ardor. What were they
thinking of, parents, to allow that side-door
into a car-seat bedroom, their children all knees and
buttocks and vibratory interstices as they glanced
off and on like a porch light with a necessary short in it
struck against eternity? The movie,
its embryonic miasma surrounding them like
jealous twins, allowed their sensing of the greater room
of universe, invited punching holes in make-believe
with patent leather shoes sparking off car lights
as some drivers left for darker zones.
But to answer your question: I chose that cover,
no interloping editor, its lovers glared up
out of their daring-dark by someone’s camera snap
whilst kisses gouged black holes
into their heads and less distant galaxies. It had
something to do with a sepia photo
of my mother, head back, drinking a coke while
leaning against a WWII tank, one leg extended flirtatiously
like a ramp to her private Berlin. Never having
seen her like that meant “the past” was orbiting
just out of reach, sloppily like a moth testing the scald
of a light bulb. Who was she, anyway?
Someone not wishing to be ravished, but showing
that fringe of self-possessed delight, her high heeled shoe also not
meant for ease in walking on any earth.
Did she dance all night?
Was the night also barefooted under its high heeled
cave-ins? No silk like stockings making legs more skin.
We were lion tamers then, women who squirmed
virginity back into its coin purse with the moon
slamming us on our backs. And as with these photos
I would tell you more if memory weren’t a deflecting
of my pre-dawn hours where I rove in the dream-lush
against faces big as houses and the gangsters
of the heart never run out of bullets.
(Response from Lawrence)
~ Fifteen Love, the Bloop-Shot Return
I barely crack Tess’s e-mail door,
her words and images thunder past
like Road Runner and Wily Coyote
zipping down a canyon.
I am taken by a whirlwind,
twist like a Saturday morning cartoon tornado,
search for an salmon net racket
to return what must be the fifteen-love ace shot,
on one knee I try a volleyball dig.
Slip-stream vapor trails appear,
vacuum me like a Hoover upright
going sixty on a tight-weave carpet,
rip tides push flotsam.
Moses parts the Red Sea,
chance to catch the dervish of kisses
while her red babushka flaps,
cruising top down on a zig zag street
after her slam.
I am a gangster in a double breasted
suit with white wing tip shoes,
I call her “Doll”, this
horned rimmed woman
who loves popcorn,
especially old maids
she cracks like Wrigley’s gum.
We crumple and fall into
each other. We are a half eaten bag,
butter stains upholstery and each other
as if we were sixteen forever.
(Response from Tess)
~ A Dervish of Kisses
is served only when a dearth occurs
such as befell the wedding party in whose
invitation an “r” had been left out,
changing the prospects
entirely from dearth to death.
It was more than careless of
the printers and of course nobody
came, at which time, the band struck up
and the dancing inhabited us not
through the feet but smackingly
lip to lip as in those cartoons
where the lips suction the kissers
like toilet plungers and when they part
each is propelled Frisbee style into some
lost hotel of the mind where
they meet again as divorcees and have
a lot more fun cheating on their former
selves. He calls her “Doll-face” and
she calls him “Buster” and pushes
a rose bud into his double-breasted
lapel. It’s a far cry from being out
to dinner these times in a one horse town
and getting called “Baby Cakes”
by the waitress, which thing did actually
happen to me and though, meant to fatten
her tip, had the opposite effect. Meanwhile
Doll-face has smooched Chinese Red lipstick
onto his white neck-collar and Buster is
not worrying past the next foxtrot notion
of where this is heading, as the firmament
roils above them Van Gogh style and they r
dancing r deathling into each other as darlings
without benefit of clegy yes clegy. Ah daling daling r’nt
she sweet? I ask you, r’nt she tweet?
(Response from Lawrence)
~ Even Gangsters Need “R”s
Adjectives are the pimples
of the English language.
Nelson Bentley, Seattle poet
Like Vatican priests excommunicating
bad letters with a touch, a wedding invitation
without an “R” and the band plays
to grazing cattle and sheep.
Printers are mischievous gnomes
with clip-on ties and ink streaked aprons,
who toil in two dimensions,
like kisses on a flat silver screen.
Without “R’s what would
Baby Cakes call my black shirt
and white tie? Unceremoniously
I become Lay, transformed
from a proper noun into a verb,
not passive or present perfect.
I rejoice at not becoming a pimple.
Moll-doll knows the difference
between me, Lie and Lay.
On slick naugahyde,
we conjugate verbs,
yogic tantric vocabulary builders
until flickers end and candy apple red
Chevy Bel Airs and baby blue
Ford Crown Victorias
sidle home under the orange August moon.
Between swaying arms of wheat,
I feel the hubcaps of my soul turning.
I yearn to glide across America’s
neon heartland, visit every drive-in
before snow piles heavy
and only icy speakers hang
like the last sentinels of
(Response from Tess)
~ When Cars Were Bedrooms
we did not worry our verbs over
vinyl seat covers in the dead-ends
of small town streets, but luxuriated if
the wing-backed Buick’s back seat was couch enough
for dreaming into each other, one of the pair tilted
on an elbow, gazing up into the kissing-moon
which always seemed to be shining those nights. What
happened to smooching? that edgy, pretend-it’s-nothing art
of leading and leading past any culminating
action. For invitations did crave us. The blur of
stop signs would do. Or, maybe an opposite hunger,
our feet on virtual gas pedals as we sped across four-ways
and star-fall, train crossings and comet-sizzle
into the oncoming of dawn cow muzzles at
the windows, licking salt from the glassy day.
Thinking now of the 1929 Buick Master Six Sedan
Model 47 that could seat five passengers and boasted “full
vanity case equipment”, (bumpers and spare tire
extra.) That gangster look, mob-comfort-sheen. Remembering
Ray excited about his 1983 Turbo-Jet Mercedes, his wanting
there to be something especially for me, brightening over
it’s light-up mirror, its forehead hyphen of surreal doubling,
letting me put my eyebrows right
in a pinch. The boxy look of its style
come into fashion after his death so strangers
interested in purchase leave cards tucked into
its windshield. A snowfall of calling cards on the 1962 Buick Wildcat
owned by a friend, touted as the “new torrid luxury
sports car” always speeding down our minds in “stiff crosswinds.
Pancake-flat cornering on curves. Front bucket seats
divided by a console with tachometer and Turbine Drive
Tell me language doesn’t
overwhelm the lay of any land! No wonder the word hubcabs
can tempt us into soul when we need to glide. Speech can be
more than wildcat as Einstein knew, practicing
as a boy every sentence in a whisper before saying
it aloud, that difference between thought and saying something intimate
to another, the difference between lovers
on a speeding train kissing and the mere thought of waving goodbye
with nothing but a mind whistling through
the closed interior of a sigh.
(Response from Lawrence)
~ Wisp of a Gal
Sun blazes on a September afternoon.
I perch cool in a pear tree
above zucchinis and cherry tomatoes,
study the world like a crouching ninja.
A vision appears:
aerodynamic fins, wrap-around windshield
and jet air craft grill on a 51 Buick Le Sabre
idling at a stoplight, hubcaps spin,
my eyes whirl—kaleidoscope colored chunks
slide and twist until images click into focus. I see
Tess styling in a faux fur coat
and Dr. Zhivago Russian winter hat
hiding a short bob. With perfect eyebrows,
thin and clean and eyeglasses dangling from a chain,
she chauffeurs me in Ray’s gun metal gray Mercedes
through downtown Port Angeles,
former bustling hub of boat builders with leather aprons
and wool shirted lumberjacks. Town
weathered and shop-worn by salty winds that
rise off the Straits of Juan deFuca.
Her Irish brogue rolls like tapioca pearls,
mellifluous melodies and rhythms
that remind me of cigars and a squeeze box
harmonica player who cradles Irish whiskey bottles,
stomps his boots on stage while rosy cheeked women
bust a lusty river dance jig on a warehouse floor.
I hear horses clopping as a wisp of a girl,
Tess, with long brown hair,
a young Lady Godiva in overalls gallops
past the Deer Park drive-in theatre,
hive where she and her high school
sweetheart smooch behind steamy windows
like a stack of pancakes hot off the griddle.
Cinema’s hour-glass queen of cleavage, lips and kisses
incinerates the big screen: Marilyn Monroe wiggles,
raises one leg at the knee, flipping up her skirt
with a high heel kick, her gluteus is maximus,
like pears hostage under a tight red sheen,
twenty pounds of rice in a ten pound bag.
I stretch for one more juicy treasure,
another sensual teardrop,
anticipate holding the pulsating oblong orb
of erotic and earthy fire overflowing
with so much ripeness that the tree
can not hold it another instant.
Vertigo spins me upside down.
I am a teenage Icarus with aerodynamic fins,
wrap-around windshield, embracing the wind like
a young girl fluttering with billowing brown hair
away, away on horseback
(Response from Tess)
~ Epona Meets X-Men
Dressed as Epona for LIFE MAGAZINE in a long
strapless sequined gown, I recline on a cushy borrowed horse
named Butterscotch. My elbow-length black
gloves and plumed eye-mask purchased in New Orleans tunnel
a mystery corridor back to first century Rome. Celtic goddess,
protector of horses, donkeys and mules, astride a horse,
with her animals beside her, leaders of the soul in the after-life ride.
Prior to the photo I had just been thrown from
“Snow Heart”, a horse named after a poem, when
the woman holding the bridle ducked her head out of the wind
to light a cigarette. Life is salted down
by inadvertent hinges where one motion triggers
another, like the simulated wind whirling up Marilyn Monroe’s
skirt, ignited from a real moment of wind on 23rd Street
in New York City in 1901 from a short film “depicting Florence Georgie
walking over a grate, hot air lifting her skirt”. Camera clatter
like a Tommy Gun leading to 1955 and Marilyn’s thigh-high echo
in “The Seven Year Itch” still a kick into the future with Kelly LeBrock
whose skirt wafts up in “The Woman in Red.” I dust myself off from
“Snow Heart” and wriggle like a seal in a blanket onto Butterscotch
like nothing happened, resume goddess-lounge position encased
in silver sequins while Annie Leibowitz squares in on me, snapping
her mad-turtle lens like a drill bit through centuries. Marilyn’s iconic
ivory pleated dress at auction selling for more than 5.6 million gives
a wink to the one on her statue at the Women’s Museum in Dallas
whose flare has been captured pre-or-post-flare. Joe Dimagio, reported to
hate the dress, smiles and lords it over years of voyeurs, having
been at leisure with those thighs. Fashion carries skirts away
and gives us leggings so there is all the thigh one could want, but
sans the flesh, giving new meaning to ‘skin-tight’. Jubilee revels
in her Jackie Chan kick, unaware of the real flesh space
between her high top boots and her snug blue shorts,
shouting: “Eat your heart out!”
ZZZRRRK is the sound Storm makes when she leaps
her comic book power-leap. With her we trade dizzy blonde
for steely white eye-sockets and snaking white hair, silver
body armor and curvaceous conical breasts rebounding light-clang.
Her lift-the-world shoulders mean she can handle it, would snigger
at a remark by my Irish visitor: “I was so happy I could have snogged the face
off him.” No wind up her skirt! When she loses power and falls
into the sea she rates a SPLUSH, then crawls drenched to the nearest
boulder to stare up defiantly at the enormous Sentinel sent
to yo-yo her back to captivity on Genosha, a false utopia. Thrown
into THE BOX her last cry is: SKREEK! Not HEEEEERE! Jubalee, her mutant
sidekick, plazma-blasts a wire to pick her cell lock.
All routine for kidnapped mutants on holiday. GIMME A BREAK!
Jubalee cries as I shower them with sequins,
gallop past Marilyn and plunge into the spirit world
(Response from Lawrence—End of the Challenge)
Before Jackie Chan is the prince
of chop-socky, we rope Bruce Lee,
master of lightning attacks–
tear your nose off with two fingers or pop your eye out
fanatic into a game of pinochle at the UW cafeteria,
he plays without heart, mentally on his knees,
card games are mock combat that drain his chi.
I recall a party at his studio on the Ave.,
Hong Kong Cha Cha champ is quiet,
rock music plays and three Everlast punching and speed bags dangle.
At a glance they look like abandoned dance partners,
drooping shopworn with no Celtic gods to protect them
unless Epona has pity on leather goods
along with Donkeys and horses with
chestnut-sized eyes. At the Island County state fair I stare
deeply into Equine windows and find
poking fingers are edible. In spite of grand names—
Valkyrie and King with golden trophies and blue ribbons,
they dwell in sadness with flies in eyes amid dung piles.
Unlike Tess with a Mardi Gras mask and her Butterscotch,
I once witnessed a vision galloping straight from
the Conan the Barbarian comic book sans thunder
and lightning, one of the four horsemen rampaging.
Magnificent Artemis, Greek warrior goddess
in black leather boots and body armor with a breastplate
and swirls, raising a standard of fierce human scalps.
Ulating, her eyes flame atop a stallion as large as the Trojan horse
with a magnificent curved neck, Clydesdale hoofs,
and nostrils blasting steam, beast spawned from hell.
Villagers in a two-dimensional comic book world
will turn their eyes to a red August sky
when Tess’s curious three dimensional face emerges
in their X-Man world, first appearing as a round speck
growing into an oblong nose, with lips appearing
below until both unite into one huge oval exiting like an iris closing.
Philosophers and soothsayers will ponder the meaning,
stir ashes and examine tea leaves
for hints about the three apocalyptic mysteries witnessed.
In a 3-D feeding frenzy starlings scream and strip my fig tree,
black birds perch on the wire—hooded anarchists
dive and riot in the treetops pecking plump orbs.
I yearn to bake 50 in a pie instead of vainly throwing
tennis balls and dirt clumps.
Like the Luftwaffe they blitzkrieg in waves
bombing and strafing my precious London.
I will not crawl into a bomb shelter
but shake my fist like Churchill, cigar in hand,
and tie reflective ribbons that tinkle,
dangle and flash—things most birds dislike,
except, it turns out, starlings.
Agent Starling, Jody Foster in Silence of the Lambs,
her namesakes sporting pointy beaks, beady eyes
and unglamorous dark suits— everything except the lisp.
Would Hannibal Lector savor them with
a little Chianti and fava beans?
Comforted in newspaper wrappings, I fortify figs, staple,
duct tape, and clip corners creating “strange fruit” under attack
on the tree, a merry-go-round without
cotton candy, full of paper nests
next to a catty-whumpus scarecrow.
After the Civil War ends, dead black men twist
in Southern trees like clothes bags, Billie Holliday’s song
protesting the “strange fruit” of their sacrificial lives.
Starlings, those battalions of shameless pillagers,
avoid my garden like Missouri homesteaders
stumbling upon an Indian graveyard. They
feel my savage eyes.
I mark my turf like a wild-eyed barbarian,
itch to scrape away civilization’s veneer and ponder
dead starlings with “X”s in their eyes,
designs cartoonists bestow on the dearly departed.
Notes on Salmon Dream, Three Poems by Lawrence Matsuda
When I first met Tess, I thought she might have been Japanese in a past life since we both were tied closely to Japan through friends and experiences. Because Japan was a harsh land, the people had to rely on the sea to provide a large measure of sustenance. As a result, fish was almost an object to be worshipped. Even today, Japan has the largest fish markets in the world, and restaurants prepare fish as if it were an art.
In the Pacific Northwest salmon is the premier fish. It has sustained Northwest Natives and commerce for centuries. Today when Seattle is featured in the media, images of Pike Place Market fishmongers throwing salmon are a staple. Tess and I both fish for salmon which is an act that embraces a Pacific Northwest mystique involving natural cycles of life, finding home after a several thousand mile journey, and connecting to salmon energy, as we touch their life cycles.
Salmon Dreams I—The Priest
King salmon breaks water,
shakes, rips line. Silver flashes race
through Point Defiance green waters
until a speckled tail slaps the deck.
I grab the “Priest”, bloodstained deliverer,
gnarly knot of absolution.
At the office I am a lump in a cubicle
staring at e-mail strings
framed by pea-green institutional walls
under a florescent glow.
On the water life and death
are in my hands —a thump,
scales fly helter-skelter.
I strip orange egg-skeins,
cradle them on ice.
Slice red flesh from bones
and toss innards to gulls.
I savor and taste the fight again.
transport me to the first
native who pulls
a salmon to shore.
I am a boxer after 12 rounds,
imagine crowds standing and cheering,
ride their shoulders, after victory.
My hands shake,
until juices wear off.
My arrogance ebbs.
Is gratitude enough
for taking a life?
Why do I believe Salmon
desire death by my hands?
Pride is the sin of angels
Salmon Dreams II- The Haunting
Without brakes squealing
or horns honking, a humpback
smashes our stern. We swirl,
and tip side to side –
flee the cabin like drunks
from a long night’s ravage.
Clutching the “priest” I rip open
a life vest and flail
like a cartoon rag doll
tossed rail to rail.
Rising from the chaos,
Ahab’s spirit beckons
from a nimbus of snarled ropes,
Deliver me home, he calls,
I am ashes in the sea.
as we dive into the trough,
reappear at the crest.
Salt water spray cascades,
the “priest” tumbles,
from the ice chest into the mist.
Captain Lou cracks the cabin door,
scans the deck to see if
I am a popsicle bobbing in whitecaps.
Up north an Eskimo villager
falls through ice last year, certain
death for most. I wonder
what he thinks to keep
from freezing as hours pass until
One summer I jump into
the Tokeen, Alaska bay.
Icy waters take my breath,
cold so intense my ancestors scream.
I imagine Japanese adventurers
shuffling straw slippers over snowy trails
crossing the land bridge thousands of years ago.
Unfortunates starve and freeze
on Alaskan glaciers like the Donner party
traveling the Oregon Trail.
Japanese concentration camp pioneers
ride the Trail in 1942,
pass memorials where early emigrants die.
Near the Craters of the Moon Japanese
in reverse migration push
on to Minidoka without mules,
oxen, great white whale, Ahab,
or gnarly priest to grant absolution.
What did they have? Each other
and Father Tibesar ‘s Catholic Mass,
Reverend Andrew and his faithful “Blue Box” van
that logs over 56 round trips hauling internee boxes
from the Seattle Japanese Baptist church
to camp, and also the Woodwards whose
Bainbridge Island Review newspaper
valiantly reports on daily camp lives.
They had each other. Men and women
with strong backs who raised children
and transformed desert
into sugar beet and potato fields.
They had each other until barracks are shuttered,
electricity disconnected, windows boarded
one by one and Minidoka is plowed under
as a misbegotten footnote in American history.
My 5th grade spirits rose and crashed
when the national “Weekly Reader”
newspaper features the camps.
America, it reports, rationed necessities like
butter, gasoline, and meat during war—
internment was the Japanese patriotic sacrifice.
Salmon Dreams III- Salmon Rise
Under an Alaskan full moon,
thousands of silver mantles flash,
navigate by stars, taste
streambeds of home,
fresh ribbons trickle
into the Pacific.
Those that slip hooks
live to twist in shallows.
defend encapsulated progeny.
Gravel boils and sprays.
photographic negative, an impression
etched in limbic memories,
once in a lifetime dance.
What guides my path—
free will, or fate?
I fight upstream, hand to hand
or should I wait on the beach?
Words and images are my arrows,
ability to change my shield.
Under the sign of two fish
facing opposite directions,
I walk the road home alone.
And it is sweet to say “home”
even as I swim past myself
resting in swirling deep pools.
Lawrence Matsuda was born in the Minidoka, Idaho, World War II Relocation Center. 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 entitled A Cold Wind from Idaho. His essay “Minidoka Fences” is also available from Cerise Press, Spring 2010, Vol. 1 Issue 3.
Tess Gallagher’s newest book, Midnight Lantern: New and Selected Poems (Graywolf), was released 27 September, 2011. Graywolf also has Dear Ghosts and Moon Crossing Bridge, as well as other works by the author. Her Selected Stories The Man from Kinvara and her books of essays, A Concert Of Tenses and Soul Barnacles, are also available.