Too Young to Remember
Minidoka, Idaho— War Relocation Center
I do not remember the Idaho winter winds,
knee deep mud that oppressed 10,000 souls
or the harsh summer heat and dust.
I do not remember miles of clotheslines,
mounds of soiled diapers, clatter of families crowded
into barracks, the greasy closeness
of canned Vienna sausage,
of pungent pork and sour brine
exuding from mess halls.
Floating in the amniotic fluid,
tethered in salt sea, odors
nourished by fear and sadness—
my Mother’s anxieties
enveloped and nurtured me.
Maybe it was the loss of her home,
the sudden evacuation,
being betrayed by her country.
Or maybe it was the stillborn child
she referred to as It,
sexless blob of malformed tissue,
a thing without a face that would have been
my older sibling.
My aunt described it as budo,
a cluster of grapes.
I recall what Barry, my psychiatrist friend,
said about parents emotionally distancing themselves
from children born immediately after a stillbirth.
Sixty years later on drizzly Seattle days,
when November skies are overcast,
and darkness begins at 4:00 p.m.,
I feel my mother’s sadness
sweep over me like a cold wind from Idaho.
I search for Minidoka,
unravel it from the memories of others.
Like a ruined sweater, I untwist the yarn,
strands to weave a tapestry
of pride and determination—
the “children of the rising sun” once banished
to desert prisons, return from exile
with tattered remnants, wave them overhead,
time-shorn banners salvaged from memories
woven in blood and anguish.
I wish I could remember
Minidoka. I would trade
those memories for the fear and sadness
imbedded in my genes.
Note: The Minidoka War Relocation Center was one of ten U.S. World War II concentration camps that held120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans for approximately three years.
This poem appears in A Cold Wind from Idaho, Black Lawrence Press, New York, 2010
Larry Matsuda was born in the Minidoka, Idaho War Relocation Center during World War II. He and his family along with 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans were held in ten concentration camps without committing a crime and without due process for approximately three years.
Matsuda has a Ph.D. in education and was recently a visiting professor at Seattle University. He was a junior high language arts teacher and Seattle School District administrator and principal for twenty-seven years.
He studied poetry under the late Professor Nelson Bentley at the University of Washington and has participated in the Castalia Poetry Reading Series there. He has read his poetry at numerous events in Washington, California, Oregon, and Idaho including the famous Kobo at Higo’s venue in Seattle’s International District with his mentor Tess Gallagher.
His poems appear in Poets Against the War website, The New Orleans Review, Floating Bridge Press, The Raven Chronicles, Ambush Review, Cerise Press, Black Lawrence Press website, and the International Examiner Newspaper. In 2005 he and two colleagues wrote and co-edited the book Community and difference: teaching, pluralism and social justice, Peter Lang Publishing, New York. The book 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.
He lives with his wife, Karen, and son, Matthew in Seattle and is a consultant presently helping to re-design schools as better physical learning environments.