archives fall 2008




1.  Like a Blown Fuse

Cold so cold you feel like a crime scene—flashbulbed open into a tremulous lesion policed by bright yellow tape.

Reckless pinball and ricochet between a cracked, awful radiance and some stale, ash-stubbed sorrow—smoky as the remorse that skulks on the curb outside the bar around closing time while you flirt inside with disquietude.

Your friend calls to tell you she feels like blown fuse.  The two of you laugh and laugh.

Drifting in the limbo of a spent winter break, you go to a New Year’s Eve Do-Over Party two weeks into the new year: champagne at midnight, and ABBA at 3:00 a.m., singing “Take a Chance on Me.”  Everyone still standing dances—swivel of women's hips and knees, swaying hair, flushed laughter.

(This cracked radiance. Like a blown fuse.)

What would you do over if you could? What would you (or wouldn’t you) take back?

2.  Crackpot

Such an old school word, isn’t it?

How does it signify:         sprung a leak;
                                     (in a Juliet Binoche-y accent) damaged people are dangerous.

Emily Dickinson was called “half-crack’d.”

Anne Sexton’s stars were cracked when not rats.


That whip-like wallop of a word, crackpot, with its blistering sting of dismissive contempt. Everyone knows pots crack, but did they crack on their own, and if not, why didn’t someone use bubble wrap?  Why weren’t there Styrofoam peanuts?

Hairline fracture.  Stress fracture.  Greenstick fracture. Paint paddle fractured into splinters from striking your flesh in the basement.  Years later, a young woman away from home waits in the emergency room: concussion, black eye, ruptured eardrum.  Greenstick fracture.  The body resilient, but even the smallest hairline fracture crazes and crackles outward like a struck windshield until you are right back at the scene of the crime and the angry villagers are chasing you again with their sticks and flame.

Is it wrong, you want to know, for a cracked pot to thirst for water it can never hold?

3.  Handle With Care

Cold so cold it makes you feel see-through.  Breakable and delicate.  Harbor your crockery of bones in a packing crate full of old socks.

Sun’s cold high beam glaring everywhere—ricocheting off snow, stretching sky’s dome like a taut blue balloon, sluicing in through every window. You want to drink it in deep thirsty gulps, the cold of it numbing the back of your throat and throbbing your temples, the cold of it an erasing tide against the hot ache in your chest, the cold of it easing the tight muscular lump of things better left unsaid.

You promise yourself to stop worrying so much about feeling like a mollusk without its shell. Like an unpeeled grape.  Marred by unexpected grit.  That ungainliness of having been tuned too tightly, like the E-string on a violin pitched sharp.

Yesterday, slipperiness and flakes sifting anxiously through air.  Something of worth relentlessly ground down in a lapidary shop.  But then a soft plush of snow. Cool goose down comforter drawn up over everything to cover the trees’ dishabille.

All this clean cold light.  You’d like to dive right into its blindingly icy flashpoint.

4.  Raku

Ornament the bisqued vessel in stains and engobes, then lacquer it in a frit of silica and flux.  Thrust it to flame again to melt the glaze in the kiln’s crucible.  Let it smoke slowly in a reduction chamber—fiery surface scored by a nest of burning straw, leaves, paper.  Or douse it in cold water to capture the molten blazing and freeze the glaze.  Will it shatter?  Or will it craze up to, but not quite past, the point of fracture?

Very important is the potter’s attitude and involvement in the firing cycle. The intimacy and immediacy are never more deeply felt in any other ceramic process.

Each day, your lips touch the earthen rim again and again and over time, leave their faint imprint on that stopped flame, stilled hiss of ash and smoke—as day by day you drink the memory of that blaze, that near-rupture, that fall and bloom to icy water.


Chasing the Dragon

(Open letter in reply to pristinely blank SPAM mails I receive
from nowhere¾without 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 pre-verbal 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, perhaps I will wrap myself in the idea of you like a nebulous scarf made of fog when I stalk you again and again and again through these mist-filled streets at night.


Hegemony, Anemone, Chalcedony, Persephone

All last week, trees simultaneously released
entire branchfuls of leaves with exasperated sighs.
They came clattering down like breakfast cereal.
How does it feel, I wonder, to relinquish oneself
to winter in this way?  And is it the trees who cast off
their leaves, or do the leaves simply decide to let go?

Now, the first snowfall of the year.  Dry, crisp flakes
seasoning down from the sky like many salt shakers
rhythmically shaken over the Missouri River Valley.
There’s a sound like a rustling of taffeta skirts,
a shivery dusting of white coating sidewalks and lawns,
the hoods and roofs of cars.  Like confectioner’s sugar,
except for the blue undertone of sparkle thumbtacked
in steely points underneath the haloes of streetlamps,
showering flinty sparks in the headlights of passing cars.

I discover a remnant of summer, a Dog Day Cicada,
in the mop bucket:  army-tank greens and blacks
immaculately preserved, glittering fretwork of wings,
two hind legs raised akimbo, frozen mid-stride.
Was it one of the same cicadas who came in August
to dementedly orbit my porch light like the metal cars
in a Tilt-A-Whirl ride from a small-town parking lot
carnival?  (Stung rain of clear metallic plinks ringing
against my windows.)  Some landed on their backs
and couldn’t right themselves, violently scraping
and buzzing, a rattling clamor of wings, like berserk
mechanical toys.  I’d find ribbed husks shucked
in the foliage, neat slits down the back like discarded
peel-and-eat shrimp shells—exact cast likenesses down
to the slender pincer feet and bulging, wide-set eyes.

It’s the time of year I’m drawn to pomegranates
at the grocery store:  so private, so mysteriously
self-contained, with their lovely flowered crowns, 
glittering garnet-colored seeds hidden inside
fleshy smiling dimples of pulp.  I wish I had
an entire basket.  I would stand on the sidewalk
in the snow, press them into the open palms
of beautiful women, saying remember . . . ?

It’s a good night to drink large steaming mugs
of pungent ginger tea, to eat hot and sour soup
and black pepper chicken.  A good night to wear
a Laplandish type of hat, with flappy ear flaps,
dangling pom-poms, and a soft fleece lining.
It’s a good night to daydream over the dictionary,
turning over the deliciously thin pages one by one—
soft rustle of turning paper not unlike the sound
of snow outside—turning over the gently falling
sounds of the words in one’s mouth like cold, round
sweet grapes:  hegemony, anemone, chalcedony,
Persephone.  And later, in the dark, it will be a good
night to dream one’s lover has returned: to pull her
into the spooned curve of one’s body, finger
the delicate ridge of her navel, smell the wispy hairs
at the nape of her neck, whisper secrets in her ear:
Did you know . . . ?  I wish . . .  And then . . .


Hiroshima, Mon Amour

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 black and 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 cafe. 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, where clouds are slung low and dark like bruised sulky pansies, and glimpses of the sky behind are a surreal, too-bright Dali blue I will walk deeper, and deeper still, into the black-and-white interior of the narrative’s narrative.


Things That Are Filled with Grace

A centipede, waddling across one’s floor,
striped like fruit-stripe gum
with elegant tail wisps trailing behind—

perfected fluid
marching of leg after regimented
leg like the rippling

synchronicity of a pianist
practicing Czerny
exercises up and down the keyboard.

The giant holly-
hocks that begin the day like round, café-
bowls, with hand-

drawn lipstick-pink petals on the bottom
and warm, sticky-sweet
honeyed centers. They open themselves up

into dinner plates
by noon with a precisely engineered

of unfolding, the way collapsible
metal vegetable
steamers unfold themselves. A grasshopper

that flings itself up
out of a patch of clover in measured
cadences, with bright

flashes of marigold-yellow under-
wing, and a shower
of castanet-like clicking raining into

the air. A giant
hulk of a beetle, clinging to the string
of my porch light

like an overweight P. E. student
hanging on gym ropes, who then,
improbably, begins to maneuver

itself with clever
dexterous footwork upside down and right-
side up, then upside

down again—deftly plying the twirling
string with the practiced
muscular grace of a Cirque du Soleil

gymnast. The tiny
pale green nymphs that mistake my bedside lamp
for the moon, swirling

in clusters within the warm gold halo
of light, then pausing
to rest for a moment on the opened

pages of my book
like uneasily shifting hieroglyphs
that cast strange shadows,

causing me to misread things. And after all,
isn’t it really
just such a delicate smidgin of life

that separates love
from leave, fear from feat, spectacular
from testicular,

and grace from grief? How is it that starfish
are each perfected
in their architectural proportions

to form the ratio
of the Golden Section? Why do the leaves
of the artichoke

map the same, mathematical sequence
as pinecones, daisies,
seed heads, and cauliflower; and who tells

snails or the chambered
nautilus to initiate the in-
finite, spiraling

logarithms of the Fibonacci
series? How do bees
know which egg to select for their new queen,

nurse bees ladling
royal jelly over the larva once
she hatches, sealing

shut the royal chamber with wafers spun
from wax and silk? They
let her slumber for seven days before

she’s reawakened:
a lambent, ambered, incandescent bride
and queen, obsessed

by a hard-wired and fearless desire to throw
herself at the sun—
fierce and elusive in her skyward flight.  


Lee Ann Roripaugh is the author of two volumes of poetry: Year of the Snake (Southern Illinois University Press, 2004) and Beyond Heart Mountain (Penguin, 1999). She is currently an Associate Professor of English at the University of South Dakota.