tsunami vs. the fukushima 50: poems

tsunami vs. the fukushima 50: poems

by Lee Ann Roripaugh


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In March 2011, a tsunami caused by an earthquake collided with nearby power plant Fukushima Daiichi, causing the only nuclear disaster in history to rival Chernobyl in scope. Those who stayed at the plant to stabilize the reactors, willing to sacrifice their lives, became known internationally as the Fukushima 50.

In tsunami vs. the fukushima 50, Lee Ann Roripaugh takes a piercing, witty, and ferocious look into the heart of the disaster. Here we meet its survivors and victims, from a pearl-catcher to a mild-mannered father to a drove of mindless pink robots. And then there is Roripaugh’s unforgettable Tsunami: a force of nature, femme fatale, and “annihilatrix.” Tsunami is part hero and part supervillain—angry, loud, forcefully defending her rights as a living being in contemporary industrialized society. As humanity rebuilds in disaster’s wake, Tsunami continues to wreak her own havoc, battling humans’ self-appointed role as colonizer of Earth and its life-forms.

“She’s an unsubtle thief / a giver of gifts,” Roripaugh writes of Tsunami, who spits garbage from the Pacific back into now-pulverized Fukushima. As Tsunami makes visible her suffering, the wrath of nature scorned, humanity has the opportunity to reconsider the trauma they cause Earth and each other. But will they look?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781571314857
Publisher: Milkweed Editions
Publication date: 03/12/2019
Pages: 120
Sales rank: 310,504
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Lee Ann Roripaugh is the author of four previous collections of poems, including Dandarians. Her first collection, Beyond Heart Mountain, was selected by Ishmael Reed as a National Poetry Series winner. Her second collection, Year of the Snake, was named winner of the Association of Asian American Studies Book Award. Her third book, On the Cusp of a Dangerous Year, was lauded as “masterful” and a “gorgeous canticle” (Maura Stanton). And then most recently, her fourth collection of poems,Dandarians, was described as “a work of beauty and resilience” (Srikanth Reddy). Roripaugh has received an Archibald Bush Foundation Artist Fellowship, the Frederick Manfred Award from the Western Literature Association, the Randall Jarrell International Poetry Prize, and an Academy of American Poets prize. She serves as Editor-in-Chief of the South Dakota Review and directs the creative writing program at the University of South Dakota, as well as being the state’s Poet Laureate. She resides in Vermillion.

Read an Excerpt

ontology of tsunami

awoken venom

cobra come uncharmed

glittering rush of fanged lightning that strikes and strikes again

tsunami has no name

call her the scalded splash of tea jarred from a broken cup’s cracked glaze

call her the blood-soaked shirt and cut-away pants pooled ruby on the floor / rising biohazard

ill-omened oil that stills the wings of birds

she spills and spills and spills over

a sloshed bucket tipped-over pitcher the bent tin cup’s cool sluice of rinse poured over skin’s delicious prickle

ginger’s cleansing sting erasing the soft flesh of fish from the tongue

she goes by no name

call her annihilatrix

call her tabula rasa

she’s the magic slate’s crackling cellophane page

shellacked wings un-clung from staticky black elytra

the liminal torn-open, turning words into invisible birds lifting unruly as catastrophe

yes, but / and . . .

(if only, if only--
meticulous swift precision of disaster’s Swiss watch)

she remains unnamed

call her the meme infecting your screen

call her the mal-ware gone viral

radioactive man

the papers started calling me
Radioactive Man after tests from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency revealed the highest radiation levels in anyone they’d ever screened

I guess I’m the champion, I joke to reporters who come for interviews like visitors from another planet

bulky and brightly awkward in white hazmat suits, they look like mourners at a Buddhist funeral

and so I light a cigarette to dangle from the corner of my lip and grin

even eight miles away, in Tomioka,
the sound of Reactor 4 exploding was completely unmistakable,
so I took my elderly parents south to my aunt in Iwaki, who refused to even open her door to us because she said we were contaminated

then we tried a temporary shelter but it was full, so we came home again to the no go zone, and when other relatives agreed to take in my parents, I stayed behind to care for the abandoned animals

I’ve seen many terrible things:
cages filled with withered songbirds,
horses left to starve in their stalls,
an abandoned puppy that grew too big for the chain around its neck

I rescue as many as I can:
the dog trapped inside a barn

for months, who survived by eating the dead flesh of starved cattle

or the feral ostrich so vicious the police who border patrol the nuclear exclusion zone armed with Geiger counters nicknamed her The Boss

all over Tomioka, the animals recognize the sound of my truck,
and come running to meet me when I make my daily rounds

many come to stay with me at my family’s old rice farm

living without water or electricity in the ruins of the town where I was born is sometimes very lonely

I wait for cancer or leukemia and joke to The Boss about becoming a superhero through a radioactive ostrich bite

sometimes I think of visiting my two kids, who live with my ex-wife in Tokyo,
but then I remind myself of the invisible dust coated in cesium particles that’s in my clothes, my hair, my skin

I remember I can see my future in the sick animals I care for

in the American Watchmen comics,
Dr. Manhattan was once tricked into believing he’d given everyone he ever loved cancer, through exposure to his radioactive body

just the thought of this undid him,
made him feel so solitary and blue he left the earth behind for eons,
to brood in exile on the moon

hungry tsunami / tsunami as galactus

the hunger of trying to hold back the hunger a little bit longer

the hunger of restraint and pullback churn and growl of beached fishes in an agitated bouillabaisse liquid silver squirming on an empty shore

to lick the gilding from the buildings like golden drizzles of caramel

to take the cake / flick off the crumbs

to raze the fruit / spit out the pits

the hunger of sucked-out marrow the unwillingly pried-open oyster the cracked and pillaged lobster claw

to shuck / to husk / to unshell her way to what’s most tender

to dismantle the protective scrims that signal a cache of rawness

to demolish defenseless succulence

the hunger for the liquid center squirt of ganache in a swiss truffle chocolate lava cake’s molten fondant core

to feed past the end of greed

to feast past the end of want

to gorge past the borders of voraciousness until she becomes the monstrous goddess of binge / pure mercenary lack

the blooded face

blood in the water

the blood moon’s exposed sweet throat with its lipsticked jugular bitten clean out

Table of Contents


ontology of tsunami dreaming tsunami tsunami goes to canada animal portents foretell the rise of tsunami radioactive man hungry tsunami / tsunami as galactus mothra flies again shapeshifter tsunami: a scary epithalamium miki endo as flint marko (a.k.a. sandman)
tsunami battles the pink robots / French poststructuralist tsunami year of the hitachi snake beautiful tsunami hulk smash tsunami as misguided kwannon white tsubame tsunami grrlsplains allergies anonymous, as invisible man tsunami’s debris ama, the woman of the sea kikuchi octopus emo tsunami song of the mutant super boars hisako’s testimony (as x-men’s armor)
origin of tsunami ghosts of the tohoku coast tsunami in love: kintsukuroi / golden joinery origami of tsunami: a technical manual and glossary


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