Lee Ann Roripaugh

Kintsugi: A Mapping / Jishin-no-ben


The times you remember your mother
expressing regret, revealing heartbreak,

so often involve broken china: hand-painted
porcelain fractured into crushed eggshell

in the hold of her plane when she flew
to America from Japan; a piggy bank filled

with silver dollars from New Mexico, whose
flanks were tattooed with turquoise flowers;

the Harvest Gold Fiesta Ware turkey platter
you used to think was a chunk of moon.


The art of kintsugi aggrandizes cracks
in broken pottery—gilding them

in lacquer resin infused with gold,
silver, or platinum to honor breakage,

to mimic the shiny flow of rivers, lakes,
and waterfalls. Mottainai: the feeling

of regret when something is wasted.
Mushin: the need to accept change. Each

piece rendered more unique, valuable, rare
because of its scars, because of its repair.


A broad satin-slick indent of a scar
from your titanium-fused spine;

a constellation of punctum scattered across
your belly where your cancerous womb

was excised by Da Vinci robot;
the scars you inflicted upon yourself;

the overactive neurons of your
amygdala burned-out Lite Brite pegs—

bulbs blown out from blinking
fight / flight / fight / flight / fight.


Your mother used to tell you unless
you had children, you’d never be

a real woman. Now she likes to ask,
in her setting-a-trap-for-you voice:

How many children you have?
When you say you don’t have any,

she calls you a liar, tells you she’s seen them,
says you should feel shame for giving

silver to your three stink brats when you
don’t give silver to your own mother.


Once upon a time, you lived in a cottage
with a cracked foundation, and snakes

poured through fault lines in concrete: liquid,
molten, racing-striped and diamond-flecked,

with tiny red flames of flickering tongues.
They coiled themselves into sinuous figure-eights

in the basement, quick slick noodles through
the backyard grass—the baby snakes thin, tight,

shiny as new shoelaces. Their gleaming
surgical stitchery. A recursive ouroboros.



Saturation: A Mapping / Jishin-no-ben


How do you explain a part of you likes
the quiet. That you’ve been ricocheted

from crisis to crisis for so long loneliness
seems like a small price to pay for your life

or your health, of course, but also—if you’re
honest—for some goddamn quiet. Crisis

like being stranded on a lifeboat—a focus
on avoiding saturation, preventing spillover—

the tossing overboard of loved, beautiful objects
you don’t need. The niceties. You’re without nicety.


For photographers, saturation means intensity
of color. Low saturation is more muted,

calming, gray-scale, like the antidepressants
you sometimes take to protect yourself against

self-harm, to quiet the cut-nerve electricity
of your spark-stuttered brain. They make you feel

muffled, taped-off and swaddled in emotional
bubble-wrap, but you understand this is safer,

for the time being, than the orbital violence,
the migraine aura throbbing, of oversaturation.


Quiet things that are really noisy: the e-mail inbox
that spills and spills like a rain-saturated river

into the flood plain; the cardboard box graveyard
that rises over your head in the living room

like a barometer for your mental illnesses;
the five loaded handguns your father left stashed

in random hiding places, one of them sheathed
in an argyle sock, in your childhood bedroom;

the petty violence of being given the silent
treatment, the sonic boom of being shunned.


So many years you were your mother’s avatar:
some oversaturated version of your self

she would extend into the world—scripted,
costumed, quiet behind a performative mask

of her crafting—like some sticky wand of honey
meant to trap flies. She took credit for success

(you only win because I tell you to do that way), and
disavowed the losses (you not my daughter anymore).

You would’ve done anything for her. Anything.
When did you realize anything was never enough?


It’s true, there are certain insects who drink the eye
secretions of resting animals. Some butterflies love

crocodile tears for example, while there are bees who like
to sip the tears of turtles. In Brazil, the erebid moth

slides its proboscis at night like a long soft straw beneath
the eyelids of sleeping antbirds to drink their tears.

Sometimes you worry that if you try to absorb your
mother’s sadness you’ll reach saturation and bloom

to salt: all crystal and stung brine, laced with the neuro-
transmitter leucine encephalin—a fleur de sel of grief.



Lee Ann Roripaugh’s fifth volume of poetry, tsunami vs. the fukushima 50 (Milkweed Editions, 2019), was named a “Best Book of 2019” by the New York Public Library, selected as a poetry Finalist in the 2020 Lambda Literary Awards, cited as a Society of Midland Authors 2020 Honoree in Poetry, and was named one of the “50 Must-Read Poetry Collections in 2019” by Book Riot. She is the author of four other 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. The South Dakota State Poet Laureate from 2015-2019, Roripaugh is a Professor of English at the University of South Dakota, where she serves as Director of Creative Writing and Editor-in-Chief of South Dakota Review. Roripaugh served as one of the jurors for the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, and has been appointed as the Mary Rogers Field and Marion Field-McKenna Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at DePauw University for spring 2022.