Four Poems

Poetry / Lee Ann Roripaugh

:: #coldspringwithptsd #string of beads ::

midnight’s icicle  ::  each day longer in the tooth  ::  the end of winter
fangs its way in toward your  ::  palely exposed jugular


hawk unfluffs a  ::  bunny into aperture  ::  the unraveling
ribbons of slick intestines  ::  rain’s sullen legerdemain


panic’s acetone  ::  chipping night’s glitter-  ::  polish of stars / next
morning a stray balloon dream-  ::  tangled in real tree branches


relentless birdsong  ::  see-sawing under the eaves  ::  ativan’s static
an impotent snow / tin-foiled  ::  antennae / poor reception


leapday: drinking black  ::  coffee / black coffee / drinking  ::  black coffee / stare
at the walls / black coffee / black  ::  coffee / black coffee / stare—


the muffled thud of  ::  damp socks Stockholm Syndroming  ::  in the dryer / you
never really listen to  ::  the non-sequiturs of rain


relentless birdsong  ::  see-sawing under the eaves  ::  april’s tight green buds
popcorn to ruptured cloud in  ::  anxiety’s hot oil sheening


young hawk plucks apart  ::  something tender in the tree  ::  outside your window
white fluff dandelioning  ::  down / spring broken / sprung forward


melancholia  ::  unfolds its wiry, anised  ::  uncoiling like a
bitter licorice / roadkill’s  ::  flat pancaked halo of calm


exsanguinated  ::  stone / no-more-shake-left injet  ::  spilled milk / licked-clean plate
sac’s cul / crumpled juicebox / dis-  ::  pensed pez / inkless octopus


relentless birdsong  ::  see-sawing under the eaves  ::  migraine’s struck tuning
fork blowtorching a fountain  ::  of sparks behind your right eye


rain’s slack gray phrases  ::  slurring the blurred windowpanes  ::  ostinato of
the gutter’s percolated  ::  rattle / wilting confetti

of storm-drenched lilac  ::  in the alley / Monday noon’s  ::  tornado siren
diluted, like too-weak tea  ::  in the day’s triggering wet


today you are a  ::  delicate glass shattering  ::  under cold water
after rain’s gray anthems / comes  ::  snow’s staticky off-signal


:: #sandhillcranes #string of beads ::

sizzle of orange  ::  lightning / the corrugated  ::  tin blind a gaunt bell
clanging in the wind and rain  ::  curious deer near to see


roosting overnight  ::  in clusters on the river’s  ::  sandbars / cranes stirred to
call and response by the storm  ::  say hello (hello) hell-oh


scribbled warble of  ::  cranes graffiti night’s water  ::  a river otter’s
sleek whiskered head interrupts  ::  the river’s tense murmuring


train whistle’s blurred smear  ::  curlicued by coyotes’ yip and wail  ::  the wood-block chortling
of cranes gets frenetic / as  ::  sun’s wobbly gold yolk slides up


thousands of sandhills  ::  helix off sandbars into  ::  spirographed kettling
football stadium loud / iced  ::  river exhales puffs of fog


a whooping crane takes  ::  wing from the cornfield in snow  ::  ukiyo-e
cranes in snow / moon craning  ::  the river trills all night long  


obfuscatory  ::  crooning slices through the mist  ::  filaments of cranes
unraveling / shaggy yarn  ::  from a woolly skein of fog


a flyover plane  ::  cranes burble silver water  ::  chirping lotto balls
oil empire’s blinking neon  ::  signage strobes the horizon


:: #to the tardigrades #kaze no denwa ::

                    o microscopic water bear!
                    o infinitesimal moss piglet!

                    let us squee and coo over 
                    the winsome gambol
                    of your eight pumping legs
                    the slovenly crumpled origami
                    of your brown-paper-bag body

                    even given the anus-like
                    pucker of the mouth-hole
                    on your face 
                    your optics are far
                    more comforting
                    than the cockroach’s
                    as sole survivor
                    of post-atomic apocalypse

                    your cryptobiotic superpower:
                    an uncanny ability 
                    to freeze-dry and thrive
                    in the vacuum of outer space
                    for decades at a time
                    then resurrecting back to life
                    with a single drop of water

                    your microfossils
                    date back 520 million years
                    and you’ll survive
                    supernovae / killer asteroids
                    and gamma-ray bursts
                    of searing radiation

                    (it would take vesta—
                    an asteroidal ocean killer
                    with a diameter of 326 miles—
                    to potentially erase you)

                    o, tenacious survivor
                    of cosmic trauma / how
                    I wish I could channel
                    the matter-of-factness
                    of your resilience
                    in the face of nothingness
                    your ability to just be
                    and keep on being

                    what is it about myself
                    and other humans
                    that harbors the sweet fruit
                    of suicidal ideation
                    the genocidal fire
                    of self-destruction?

                    why the reverse morse
                    of nuclear codes?

                    spill of poison
                    into the water supply?

                    the seductive electricity
                    of the third rail—
                    that magnetic urge
                    to swerve and plummet 
                    from mountain’s switchback
                    and fall and fall and fall?


:: #to the robobees #kaze no denwa ::

                    a machination of horsehair
                    with a sticky ion gel

                    pygmalioned from tiny drones

                    your plastic spinners
                    mix-mastering an electric whir

                    sound of thousands
                    of microscopic blenders
                    pureeing summer’s air

                    a drone for a drone

                    (technological revolution
                    in the means of production?)

                    (linguistic sleight-of-hand
                    in which representation
                    replaces the real?)

                    it begins with
                    the dwindling of
                    the hawaiian
                    yellow-faced bee

                    the withering away
                    of the rusty patched

                    diminishing habitats
                    invasive species
                    climate change
                    colony collapse disorder

                    post-apocalyptic prophecy:
                    a fleet of you
                    pollinating a field
                    of shriveled flowers
                    with the uncanny thrum
                    of plastic zombies

                    is a bee still a bee
                    without honey?

                    (if poets become extinct
                    will the algorithms
                    keep humming?
                    is a poem still
                    a poem when no one’s
                    left to read?)

                    who will miss
                    the idiosyncrasies?

                    bee-flies who mimic
                    honeybees / but with
                    obscenely long
                    tongues to plunder
                    shy primroses

                    sphinx moth wings
                    a throated purring
                    in the night / as they ravish
                    the honeysuckle

                    honeybees lured in
                    by their fascination
                    for blue flowers
                    (lavender / borage / marjoram
                    veronica / love-in-a-mist)
                    returning to the hive
                    with heavy pollen baskets
                    who will secrete royal jelly
                    from glands in their head?

                    who will pass the pollen 
                    from bee to bee / each of them
                    chewing and grinding
                    until it’s refined and sweet
                    ready to store in wax cells?

                    (it takes eight bees
                    their entire lives
                    to make a single teaspoon)
                    who will make the honey
                    that smells like nostalgia
                    tasting like a memory
                    of lavender flowers
                    fragrant in sunlight?


From the writer

:: Account ::

#stringofbeads is envisioned as an ecocritical and decolonizing collage of braided tanka, zuihitsu, and “kaze no denwa” (“wind phone” tributes) that interrogates the false binary of Nature and Technology. In this false binary, Technology is the term that’s privileged as progressivist, urbane, smart/intellectual, scientific, creative, and patriarchal/male. Nature, conversely, is cast as atavistic, raw, undeveloped, primal, unenlightened, and female. These terms and the ways in which they’re aligned simultaneously echo racial/racist stereotypes in which Nature occupies the oppressed (i.e., raced/Orientalized) pole of the binary: exoticized, fetishized, primed for “mastery,” situated to be “known”/subject to “knowingness,” othered, idealized, and penetrated. Along similar lines this conflation of Orientalizing and gendering cathects in tendencies to always represent Nature as pure, “pristine,” “untouched” as in virginal.

The idea of Nature as “pristine,” “untouched,” and “virginal” is a patriarchal and colonizing fantasy. Even at national parks, Nature is imbricated with technology and industry: roads, signage, visitor’s centers, cell phone service, etc. etc. To take a photograph of Nature at the scenic outlook/view is to photograph a carefully engineered illusion—one in which industry/technology has created the means to the view, but is eliminated from the frame to create the illusion of Nature as pure/pristine/untouched. This nostalgia for an Orientalizing/colonizing fantasy is also, perhaps, the recreation of a phallocentric rape fantasy?

Yet Nature always/already exists alongside industry and technology. Nature is always/already part of industry and technology in that industry and technology are constructed, at root/base, from natural materials, and industry/technology is always/already “natural” in that industry/technology are organic creations of biological organisms of our planet. Meaning that the oxymoronic term “man made” is a false separation from “nature made.” As if “man” is somehow above/in charge of/master of nature, as opposed to a part of and subject to the “laws” of nature. “Man made” is not necessarily progressivist or “evolutionary” (in a positivist sense), either. “Man made” is an evolutionary process, yes, but easily a process that could lead to extinction, as could any number of evolutionary processes.

Natural ecosystems are, biologically speaking, all planetarily interconnected, and so there is no such thing as “pristine” Nature. The act of discovery automatically creates a First Contact between Nature and Technology even in outer space—the result being that the definition/scope of Nature is only enlarged? It’s interesting that outer space seemingly belongs to the realm of Technology/Science/Science Fiction, until First Contact is made, at which point the “flag is planted” and it becomes a focus of colonization, dominion, belonging to, and hence Nature. Nature in this sense is constructed as passive, and awaiting colonization. Nature only exists once ownership/dominion occurs, and is therefore a term of property rights and colonization. (Hence alignment with the feminine and racialized others.)

Thus, Nature is always/already Cyborg.

And so what does it mean to trouble the binaries between Nature and Technology in representations of, particularly, Nature? What does an intervention that attempts to destabilize the essentialized notion of Nature as an exoticized, fetishized, feminized, passive, “pristine” Other look like?

And in a feminist rewriting of the primal rape fantasy (and its nostalgic iterations) doesn’t Nature tend to trump Technology (i.e., natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis, etc.)?

And if nature is always/already Cyborg, does this mean that Nature, like all Cyborgs, is semiotically unstable, but also meteorologically volatile (and possibly unhappy at being tampered with/interfered with by her cybergenic creator(s))?

With respect to literary representations, I also feel that contemporary renditions of traditional Asian forms are particularly guilty of representing Nature in this “pristine,” fetishized, Orientalized manner which (in tandem with the appropriation of a traditional Asian form by a non-Asian practitioner), leads to a sense of double Orientalizing (both formal and thematic): “museum culture” nostalgia for a pre-Westernized Asia, etc. This is ridiculous given what a technologically-driven and technologically-savvy group of countries comprise contemporary Asia.

Non-Asian practitioners of haiku, tanka, senryu, et al. are not automatically offensively Orientalist for their appropriation of the forms, per se (although the question of (mis)appropriation here is definitely worth discussing), but rather for their performance of the form in such a way that reifies and expresses a nostalgia for Orientalist stereotypes—particularly through relying on static imagery of/for a Nature-that-is-no-more (pure, pristine, etc.) in a linguistic style that is likewise static/dated in terms of contemporary poetry and poetics. (As another subset is (mis)appropriation, perhaps we might consider Western/non-Asian “haiku” (and other) societies that similarly defend the “purity” and “tradition” of the form—even as it has already been Westernized through translation and non-calligraphic practices.)

#stringofbeads plays in this fluid, hybrid spectrum between Nature and Technology, matriarchy and patriarchy, occidental and “Oriental,” paying homage to that which is lost, destroyed, and made extinct through elegiac intrusions of #kazenodenwa (“wind phone”) poems.


Lee Ann Roripaugh is the author of four volumes of poetry: Dandarians (Milkweed Editions, 2014), On the Cusp of a Dangerous Year (Southern Illinois University Press, 2009), Year of the Snake (Southern Illinois University Press, 2004), and Beyond Heart Mountain (Penguin, 1999). A fifth volume, tsunami vs. the fukushima 50, is forthcoming from Milkweed in 2018. She was named winner of the Association of Asian American Studies Book Award in Poetry/Prose for 2004, and a 1998 winner of the National Poetry Series. The current South Dakota State Poet Laureate, Roripaugh is a professor of English at the University of South Dakota, where she serves as Director of Creative Writing and Editor-in-Chief of South Dakota Review.