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.