Lawrence Matsuda

Tsunami Letter—March 2011
June 12, 2014 Lawrence Matsuda

Tsunami Letter—March 2011


Shunning the safety of high ground

when the tide rips and sirens howl,

I will head out to sea as in Hokusai’s painting.


Only now do we understand

the ferocious curl of those painted waves.

Before the first deadly one crashes

abolishing shores, I touch Japanese collective

memories of waves past, locked

in my American bones.


I am brimming with wave fractals,

variations of the same pattern

repeating  over centuries, folk tales

of Momotaro, the boy hero spawned

from a giant peach to slay demons and ogres,

and the Shimomura brothers, samurai who commit

double suicide—stabbing and slashing each other,

face to face until they are waves, simply

crashing across each other’s shoulders.


When my bones wash ashore,

burn them in a stack of driftwood.

Open them with flames and smoke their

cacophony of ashes in sky-swirl,

spread them across miles

of beach and cloud drift.

Memories like a million

radioactive particles escape,

glow and flutter towards

the lights of San Francisco,

the wheat fields of Kansas,

then fall like a rain

of Japanese Icaruses

over America’s heartland,

fragments of a forever-foreigner

who insists on coming home.


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, Plume, 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 the subject of a 60 minute dance presentation entitled, Minidoka performed by Whitman College students in Walla Walla, Washington (2011).