KOBO Seattle | since 1995

Shape Shifter: A Minidoka Concentration Camp Legacy by Lawrence Matsuda

September 16, 2022

Shape Shifter: A Minidoka Concentration Camp Legacy by Lawrence Matsuda

Preorder a signed copy of Shape Shifter here.

Tess Calls Me a Shape-Shifter

Tess asks, “At night do you run with the wolves
or pack with coyotes?”

Being two fish facing opposite directions,
I swim with King Salmon,
dodge gill nets, sea lions, and fishermen.
Night brothers know my human alter ego
hunts them during the day.
They vow to evade my hooks.

At Point Defiance a 25-pound King grabs my bait.
He sounds and surfaces with a run towards the boat.
My line falls slack. I reel madly and catch up.
He circles. I recognize his large adipose fin
and drop the net as he turns into it.
I roll him in and pull the hooks.
His eyes are not dead.

“Swim away brother,” I say and lift him free.

That night we meet again near the Puyallup River.
He speaks of his three-thousand-mile journey
and urges me to remain a fish.
He doubts that I would ever make it home
or find peace as a man, unless I stop fighting WWII.

Lawrence Matsuda's collection of poems in Shape Shifter: A Minidoka Concentration Camp Legacy express the reverberating trauma of his family's imprisonment in the Minidoka Concentration Camp during WWII. The Matsuda family was among 120,000 Japanese Americans who, without due process-not committing a single crime, were forced by our government into United States concentration camps at the hands of U.S. soldiers armed with bayonets. Their crime was their race. Although the poems reflect anger and a deep sense of sadness, there are also poems that display Matsuda's range in a lighter shift to his whimsical and playful side, reflecting both resilience, the healing balm of humor and the transcendence of the human spirit. 

LAWRENCE MATSUDA was born in the Minidoka, Idaho, Idaho War Relocation Camp (concentration camp) during World War II. Matsuda has written three books of poetry, a fourth in collaboration with Tess Gallagher, and a graphic novel about the WWII Japanese American 442 Regimental Combat Team. Animated sections of the novel won regional Emmys in 2015 and 2016. Matsuda has a Ph.D in Education from the University of Washington.