DANDARIANS poems lee ann roripaugh




© 2014, Text by Lee Ann Roripaugh © 2014, Cover art by Kimiko Yoshida All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher: Milkweed Editions, 1011 Washington Avenue South, Suite 300, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55415. (800) 520-6455 www.milkweed.org

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Prismed through the scrim of my mother’s Japanese accent, I think dandelions are Dandarians. Dan-dare-ee-uns. Futuristic, alien—like something named after late-night B-movie space creatures from an undiscovered planet. Maybe this is why the disturbingly lurid fronds seem too yellow to me. They seethe, I believe, with a feverishly incandescent radioactivity. I’m convinced this explains the obsessive, anxiety-laced fervor with which my parents uproot them from our lawn. As if under threat of colonization. (Years later, reading Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, I’m shocked at the thought of imbibing dandelions as alcoholic libation. I always secretly assumed dandelions were poisonous. I’m convinced it must be a hoax. I begin to distrust the boundaries between Bradbury’s literary fiction and his science fiction.) Because I’m the only one in my kindergarten class who can read and write, there’s shock and fallout when my confusion over Dandarians and dandelions is discovered. I receive special coaching. Slowly and loudly, as if I have suddenly become impaired: “You say dandy. Then say lion.” At home, because it seems important, I pass this secret knowledge on to my mother: “You have to say dandy,” I tell her. “Then say lion.” Her slap flares a stung handprint on my cheek like alien handprints in the TV show Roswell. “I’m the mother,” she says. “You the daughter.” As if that explains everything. As if in another year or so I won’t make phone calls on her behalf, pretending to be my own mother so she won’t have to struggle to make herself understood to hairdressers, pharmacists, the PTA. Can they really not understand her? Or do they simply willfully refuse to comprehend ?


I am five. I understand I’ve hurt my mother’s feelings without meaning to. I understand Dandarians are toxically radioactive. Just not in the ways I’d originally thought. And so when I tell you I’m an alien—a Dandarian, hailing from the planet Dandar—I am, of course, mostly joking. But not entirely. When I tell you I’m radioactive, it’s mostly a posture. But not entirely. On Dandar, we are partial to the theme song from Hawaii Five-O. We like the color yellow. All the best dresses chosen by mothers for daughters come in the color yellow. We eat osembei and sometimes mochi after school with hot green tea, speak our very own pidgin English at the kitchen table when my father’s at the office. My father doesn’t approve—maybe because our pidgin’s sometimes laced with the best new swear words I’ve learned at school. We never, ever answer the phone without proper deployment of the Secret Code. Here’s my universal translation device. Although when fog threads the streets like a rough, shaggy yarn too unruly to slip through the eye of a sewing needle, the reception becomes white static and everything garbles to Babel. Half-life. Decay. This is my ray gun. Do you know the Secret Code?



Spasmed jerk and gutter of Hiroshima newsreels unwinding inside a movie set in Hiroshima, where the actress in the movie plays an actress making a movie about Hiroshima and peace. A movie about (re)membering the (dis)membered. A movie about the horror of forgetfulness. It is here, inside this movie, where I will walk tonight, along blackand-white streets of borrowed time, framed within the movie set of a movie set; where brazen neon flickers numinous promises, fictional lovers first illuminated, then dowsed, like a candle pinched between thumb and forefinger. Can you see me? Will you follow? You’re destroying me / You’re good for me. Late-night café. Crisp pale beer. Shadows of moths’ small black hearts charred by the sudden flash and immolation of rice-paper lanterns. Insatiable koi mouthing the surface of the garden’s pond: like an agitation of insects against a lit window; like your face, illuminated by the quiet electric glow of your computer screen as you read; like my face, lit by my words as I write them to you. Here, on the other side of your screen, inside the movie taking place within a movie about Hiroshima, about the illusion of love, about the illusion of not forgetting, I will fabricate this story rising like wild iris from a cancerous gourd of ash. I will tell you I love you. I will promise never to forget. Here, at ground zero, it will all be true. She: Hiroshima was blanketed with flowers. There were cornflowers and gladiolas everywhere, and morning glories and day lilies that rose again from the ashes with an extraordinary vigor, quite unheard of for flowers till then. I didn’t make anything up.


He: You made it all up. Here, on the other side of your screen, by the river called Ota, which runs by the city of my Japanese ancestors, near the American occupation camp where my Japanese mother met my American father while typing like the sound of rain dropping, the clouds are slung low and bruised like sulky pansies, and glimpses of the sky behind are a surreal, too-bright Dali blue. Here, I will walk deeper, and deeper still, into the black-and-white interior of the narrative’s narrative.


(Open letter in reply to blank spam mail I receive from nowhere— without sender, subject line, or text.)

Dear No One: It is, of course, your absence that shapes your meaning, gives you compelling form . . . the very lack of you that calls forth this stream of slippery signifiers like treacherous winter sleet. It is, of course, the preverbal tundra of you that makes you exactly who I want you to be. On any given day, whose image do I project onto your white screen? (Her shoulder, his hipbone, my __________; her navel, his eyebrow, my __________.) How shall I cast you? What roles do I assign? Let me mask your facelessness and disguise you in simile, rehearse the choreography of gerunds, participles, infinitives with you. Let me conjoin you in the lustrous, drumbeat tattoo of verbiage like plumage; garnish and modify you with the gleaming, silvered piercings of adjectives. Of course, you’re not real. But are you a ghost in my machine? Does it even matter, since I’m so often accused of loving the characters I make up in my head more than the flesh-and-blood people who soon become impatient with my needful daydreaming? ( . . . the beloveds, the antagonists, the incessantly gossiping Greek chorus and extras clustered off to the side smoking Marlboro Lights and drinking their ubiquitous coffee . . . all of them so lovely and fucked up and strange . . .)


Just so you know, you are both everything and nothing to me. Just so you know, I will wrap myself in the idea of you like a glamorous scarf of fog—inhaling and exhaling the mist of you—when I walk these nebulous streets at night. Ouroborosly Yours, L.


LEE ANN RORIPAUGH is the author of three previous collections

of poems, the first of which, Beyond Heart Mountain (Penguin, 1999), was selected by Ishmael Reed as a National Poetry Series winner. She is the recipient of the 1995 Randall Jarrell International Poetry Prize, an Academy of American Poets prize, and an Archibald Bush Foundation Individual Artist Fellowship. She serves as Editor-in-Chief of South Dakota Review and directs the creative writing program at the University of South Dakota. She resides in Vermillion, South Dakota.

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