Two Poems

Poetry / Lee Ann Roripaugh

:: year of the hitachi snake ::

forked fiberscopic tongue
sixth-sensing irradiated air

it is equipped with Createc’s 
N-visage cameras and three
dimensional imaging software

among the zodiac signs
snakes are highly intuitive

metal snakes demonstrate
an appreciation for luxury
and state of the art goods

it shapeshifts into a U-form

snakes are suspicious
and prefer to work alone

programmed to shimmy down
the reactor core, identify
the configuration of melted
fuel rods fallen to the bottom
of the containment chamber

following the probe, it will be
dangerously radioactive

like a cyborg Kiyohime,
the spurned snake woman,
searching for Anchin, 
the handsome priest she loved

snakes are beautiful
but vain and high-tempered

when Kiyohime shape-
shifted into her snake form
Anchin hid from her wrath
under the Dojoji Temple bell

it will be retired and stored—
lustrous and glowing—inside
a shielded box for centuries

the heat of Kiyohime’s
rage burned and melted
the bronze bell, along with
Anchin, hidden beneath it

snakes are known to be possessive

after the new bell arrived
Kiyohime’s spirit remained
coiled around the bell, forcing
the priests at Dojoji Temple
to perform an exorcism

bell come unrung:

Kiyohime left the temple
and fled to the Hidaka River

300 tons of contaminated water
leaking into the ocean every day

:: kikuchi octopus ::

each of its eight arms can lift
up to 440 pounds to clear
radioactive debris and rubble

octopuses collect tchotchkes
and garland their eggs in their dens
on strings like twinkle lights

Doc Ock, the nuclear physicist 
and Spiderman’s archnemesis, 
engineered radiation-proof tentacles 
of immense strength and precision,
harnessing them to his body

sometimes octopuses will rip off 
the stinging tentacles
from a Portuguese man-of-war 
and repurpose them as weapons

it comes with a laser attachment
that beams through stone,
a grappler to handle nuclear waste

a shy cephalopod of a child
with Coke bottle lens glasses,
Doc Ock was terrorized
by his brutally abusive father

a 100-pound Pacific octopus
who wants to disappear 
will squeeze through a hole 
the size of a cherry tomato

it is all terrain, can remove fallen trees,
extinguish chemical fires

some octopuses are illusionists
who conjure up pseudomorphs—
life-size doppelgangers created 
from a cloud of ink and mucous— 
to act as a decoy to predators

Doc Ock becomes cyborg during
a nuclear accident—tentacles fused to
his body, brain rewired to manipulate
the prosthetics by Wi-Fi telepathy	

octopuses can recognize human faces


From the writer

:: Account ::

These two poems (“year of the hitachi snake” and “kikuchi octopus”) are part of a manuscript-in-progress tentatively titled Tsunami vs. The Fukushima 50—a project that emerged in response to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake/tsunami and subsequent Fukushima disaster in Japan.

In this project, I wish to honor and commemorate Fukushima, as well as focus attention on Fukushima’s ongoing legacies—particularly with respect to environmental crises. My strategy within this volume has been to turn to tropes of otherness/difference alongside questions of mutation and radioactivity as employed within comic books (X-Men or Godzilla, for example) as a means of confronting issues raised by the Fukushima disaster.

In addition to providing a vehicle by which to consider the ecocritical and cultural implications of the Fukushima disaster, this project has blossomed into a canvas that works with aspects of personal and cultural psychological trauma, gender performance and queer identities, the taboo of female rage, and ideas of the monstrous/grotesque.

The project is composed of poems exploring the character of tsunami as a force of nature—a feral supervillainess, rising from the seismic trauma of earthquakes in the ocean floor much in the same way that the character of the X-men’s Magneto was forged within the trauma of the Holocaust. These tsunami poems are contrasted by a fictional cadre of first-person monologues in the voices of survivors and victims of Fukushima—loosely threaded through associations with comic book superheroes.

The two poems here constitute a third strand of the volume in that they represent posthuman, robotic characters created by scientists to work in areas contaminated by radiation following the Fukushima disaster. I was struck by the projection of organic animal forms (“hitachi snake” or “kikuchi octopus”) in both the conceptualization and naming of these robots—particularly in light of the fact that these were machines designed to ameliorate the fallout of a natural disaster that became so much more deadly as a result of its collision with man-made, nuclear technology.

This braiding of projections and intersections between nature, technology, and culture suggested a form for these particular characters/poems, which are rendered in fragmented, robotic snippets. In “hitachi snake” I combine facts about the shape-shifting snake robot with elements of Asian astrology, alongside the traditional Japanese tale of the shape-shifting snake woman, Kiyohime. In “kikuchi octopus” I likewise braid together details regarding the eight-armed octopus robot with startling facts about octopuses, in tandem with the narrative of Spiderman’s nemesis, the eight-armed genius Doc Ock.


Lee Ann Roripaugh is the author of four volumes of poetry: Dandarians (Milkweed Editions, 2014) On the Cusp of a Dangerous Year, Year of the Snake, and Beyond Heart Mountain. She directs the creative writing program at The University of South Dakota, and serves as Editor-in-Chief of South Dakota Review. Roripaugh is currently the South Dakota State Poet Laureate.