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miki endo as flint marko (a.k.a. sandman)

 

after the tsunami took me
I was both here and not here

I mean, I was everywhere,
but also nowhere all at once

does this seem strange to you?

it used to seem strange to me
but now it’s just how things are

at first, I concentrated very hard
on trying to see my feet, to know
if I was a ghost or not, but when
sneakers filled with foot bones
began to surface in the Pacific,
I stopped thinking these thoughts

all during the tsunami, I held to
my post at the disaster center,
calling out evacuation orders
on the loudspeaker, warning
people to seek higher ground,
warning everyone to run away!

I still feel that terrible siren
swirling around in a loud howl
inside me, but now scattered
like radioactive sand rinsed
by a high tide, the temple
rock garden’s spiral and whorl
erased by the brooms of monks

as a child, I once saw a swarm
of ladybugs crawling over something

from a distance it looked like
an encrustation of orange M&M’s

up close, the orange shells
climbing and clambering in constant
jumbled motion, one sometimes falling
to end up stranded on its back

the frantic scramble of hairpin legs

occasionally, a shell might crack
itself open into a sizzled glimpse
of crinkly tissue-paper wings

I was scared to think about what
could be hiding beneath
this living armor of marching orange

maybe only a piece of rotted wood,
or perhaps an abandoned vegetable

but what if it was something once
vulnerable, downy, and warm?

something severed or stillborn?

something with pulse and blood
and breath bitten right out of it?

and even though I didn’t really
want to know, I poked at it
with a twig, startling beetles
into a metallic explosion of sparks

like a thrown-down bag of bang snaps

like tiny bright castanets flying away

maybe you are now wondering
about what the something was
that was hidden underneath?

it was nothing . . .
I mean nothing was there there

just absence and hollow,
which scared me most of all

now I keep trying to assemble
my dissembling self,
atom by painful split atom

my microscopic shifting wakens
the snakes, and makes uneasy
the schooled dreams of fish

I cluck my tongue and maybe
you hear it echoed in the clicked
ticking of the Geiger counter

sometimes, I find myself hiding inside
a hibernating tsunami siren, paralyzed
and mute—my throat a raw ache
of silenced night terrors—trying
to wake and unquiet myself free

Lee Ann Roripaugh is the author of four volumes of poetry: Dandarians (Milkweed, Editions, 2014), On the Cusp of a Dangerous Year (Southern Illinois University Press, 2009), Year of the Snake (Southern Illinois University Press, 2004), and Beyond Heart Mountain (Penguin, 1999). She was named winner of the Association of Asian American Studies Book Award in Poetry/Prose for 2004, and a 1998 winner of the National Poetry Series. She is a Professor of English at the University of South Dakota, where she is Director of Creative Writing and Editor-in-Chief of South Dakota Review. Roripaugh currently serves as South Dakota Poet Laureate.

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