Based on sources as diverse as Heian period female Japanese writers and the world of science fiction, and drawing on her own experience as a second-generation Japanese American, acclaimed poet Lee Ann Roripaugh’s fourth collection explores a series of “word betrayals”English words misunderstood in transmission from her Japanese mother that came to take on symbolic ramifications in her early years. Co-opting and repurposing the language of knowledge and of misunderstanding, and dialoguing in original ways with notions of diaspora and hybrid identities, these poems demonstrate the many ways we attempt to be understood, culminating in an experience of aural awe. At once wonderfully lyrical and strikingly acute, Dandarians will further establish Lee Ann Roripaugh as one of the most important and original voices in contemporary Asian American literature.
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About the Author
A second-generation Japanese American, Lee Ann Roripaugh writes poetry that deals with themes of culture and identity in all its forms. She has received numerous awards, serves as editor in chief of the South Dakota Review, and directs the creative writing program at the University of South Dakota. She lives in Vermillion, SD.
Read an Excerpt
THE PLANET OF DANDAR
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 T.V. 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-Oh. 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.
This is my ray gun.
Do you know the Secret Code?
Table of Contents
The Planet of Dandar
Hiroshima, Mon Amour
Chasing the Dragon
Trompe l’Oeil: The Annotated Version
Butch/Femme in the Streets/Sheets
Of Course I’m Nobody . . . But Who Are You?
Daylight Savings Time: An Interrogatory
1. Like a Blown Fuse
3. Handle With Care
Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Vermillion River
Talk Television: Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom
Ten Nights’ Dreams
1. Georgia O’Keefe
2. Gem City: A Migraine Dream
4. Open It
7. B. Head
8. Book ’Em, Danno
9. “You’re Going to Make Me Lonesome When You Go”
’Round About Midnight
Concatenations: A Reprise
Irezumi (or, Tattoo You)
The Violin Thief