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.