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.