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Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column


As we enter the final quarter of 2017, I didn't want to “ease” into fall but rather, take a bite out of it. Maybe there’s something feisty in the air with all the ash and soot and unrest all around us. In any case, this isn’t a time for languor but it could be a time for something a little outside the box. These two pieces—from El Cerrito-based poet Kazumi Chin and writer Lawrence Matsuda, who was born in the Minidoka, Idaho concentration camp during WWII—have their own bite to offer as we step forward in this season…enjoy.

—traci kato-kiriyama

* * * * *

Kazumi Chin is the author of Having a Coke With Godzilla. He works to build loving communities with marginalized people, to put language to the mechanisms of structures and identities, and to create spaces and tools that allow others to do the same. He is interested in scholarship at the intersection of art-making and critical theory, and has a profound love for maps, spreadsheets, algorithms, taxonomies, simulations, and also poetry and the mythical power of true friendship.


Hikki, today, oishii mono o tabeyou.
Give up my plans and slink back to my body.

I find my patronus in the dark forest of my iPhone,
so I know how slippery I can be.

When I wave my wand, a tortoise shell cat emerges
and doesn’t cooperate with me.

Go fight my demons, I say. They are killing me,
they’re telling me I have no business being myself.

Ghost cat turns away and rubs her chin on things.
You are abandoning me and my happiest memory, cat,

I say. Who cares if it’s a dream. This is what hikari mean,
cat says. Hikari in me, hikari in you. Never anywhere else.

Turn off television, look only at me tonight. Cat returns to my wand.
You still kira kira patronus. Wake from this dream. Lose nothing.

* This poem was originally published in the Underblong poetry journal
in 2017 and is copyrighted by Kazumi Chin.


* * * * *

Photo by Tara Gimmer

Lawrence Matsuda was born in the Minidoka, Idaho concentration camp during World War II. He received a PhD in education from the University of Washington. He published two poetry books: A Cold Wind from Idaho (Black Lawrence Press, 2010) and Glimpses of a Forever Foreigner (CreateSpace, 2014). The latter is a collaboration between Matsuda and artist Roger Shimomura who contributed 17 original sketches. In 2015, he collaborated with artist Matt Sasaki to produce two graphic novels: An American Hero: Shiro Kashino (chapter two was nominated for two Regional Emmys and won one for best editing) and Fighting for America: Nisei Soldiers. The next year, he and Tess Gallagher collaborated on Boogie Woogie Crisscross (MadHat Press), a book of poetry developed from e-mails they exchanged over a period of three years.

Barry, the Psychiatrist

Without a greeting at Thanksgiving,
Barry insists that
my mother was under
great stress before my Minidoka* birth.

He believes my DNA stress switches
were turned off in the womb
and anxiety tolerance levels raised.

As a child Barry survives
a Jewish resettlement camp
in Poland after the war.
He says both of us need chaos—
our bodies can withstand hunger
longer than most. Good times
and happiness make us nervous,
we compensate by overeating, risking diabetes.

He claims my mother never gave
me the “facial shine” of love as a baby,
a look both he and I crave as adults.

Good day Barry,
my response to his early afternoon
discourse without preparatory niceties.

Mother always had a shine
for her grandson, Matthew, I reply
being glad for him.

Barry wrinkles his forehead. I know, he says
and then resumes his “prenatal stress effects” diatribe.

Mentally I curl up into a ball,
mainline internal chemicals again.
Like a heroin addict I don’t want them
to degrade like radiation
and leave no trace of why I want to chew nails,
burn ladders, and stomp the saki cup.

*Minidoka was a Japanese American WWII concentration camp in Idaho.

*This poem was originally published in Glimpses of a Forever Foreigner
(CreateSpace, 2014) and this version was slightly edited from the original.
It is copyrighted by Lawrence Matsuda.


© 2017 Kazumi Chin; © 2014 Lawrence Matsuda

Kazumi Chin Lawrence Matsuda Nikkei Uncovered poet poetry

About this series

Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column is a space for the Nikkei community to share stories through diverse writings on culture, history, and personal experience. The column will feature a wide variety of poetic form and subject matter with themes that include history, roots, identity; history—past into the present; food as ritual, celebration, and legacy; ritual and assumptions of tradition; place, location, and community; and love.

We’ve invited author, performer, and poet traci kato-kiriyama to curate this monthly poetry column, where we will publish one to two poets on the third Thursday of each month—from senior or young writers new to poetry, to published authors from around the country. We hope to uncover a web of voices linked through myriad differences and connected experience.

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