For my mother, Yoshiko Horikoshi Roripaugh

1. X-Ray

My mother carried the chest x-ray
in her lap on the plane, inside
a manila envelope that read
Do Not Bend and, garnished
with leis at the Honolulu Airport,
waited in line—this strange image
of ribcage, chain-link vertebrae,
pearled milk of lung, and the murky
enigmatic chambers of her heart
in hand. Until it was her turn
and the immigration officer held
the black-and-white film up
to sun, light pierced clean through
her, and she was ushered from one
life through the gate of another,
wreathed in the dubious and illusory
perfume of plucked orchids.

2. Ceramic Pig

Newly arrived in New Mexico,
stiff and crisp in new dungarees,
her honeymoon, they drove
into the mountains in a borrowed car,
spiraling up and up toward the rumor
of deer, into the green tangy turpentine
scent of pine, where air crackled
with the sizzling collision of bees,
furred legs grappling velvet bodies
as they mated midair, and where
they came upon the disconsolate gaze
of a Madonna alcoved against
the side of the road, her feet wreathed
in candles, fruit, flowers, and other
offerings. Nearby, a vendor
with a wooden plank balanced between
two folding chairs and the glossy
row of ceramic pigs lined up across,
brilliant glaze shimmering the heat.
My mother fell in love with the red-
and-blue splash of flowers tattooed
into fat flanks and bellies, the green
arabesques of stem and leaf circling
hoof, snout, and ear. So exotic.
Years later she still describes the pig
with a sigh—heartbroken, the word
she chooses with careful consideration.
She’d filled the pig with Kennedy dollars
from the grocery budget, each half dollar
a small luxury denied at the local
Piggly Wiggly, until one day, jingling
the shift and clink of the pig’s
growing silver weight, she shook
too hard, and as if the hoarded wealth
of her future were too much to contain,
the pig broke open—spilling coins
like water, a cold shiny music, into her lap—
fragments of bright pottery shards
scattering delicate as Easter eggshell.

3. Sneeze

My mother sneezes in Japanese. Ké-sho!
An exclamation of surprise—two sharp
crisp syllables before pulling out
the neatly folded and quartered tissue
she keeps tucked inside the wrist
of her sweater sleeve. Sometimes,
when ragweed blooms, I wonder why
her sneeze isn’t mine, why something
so involuntary, so deeply rooted
in the seed of speech, breaks free from
my mouth like thistle in a stiff breeze,
in a language other than my mother’s
tongue. How do you chart the diaspora
of a sneeze? I don’t know how
you turned out this way, she always
tells me, and I think that we are each
her own moon—one face in shadow,
undisclosed seas and surprising mountains,
rotating in the circular music
of separate spheres, but held in orbit
by the gravitational muscle
of the same mercurial spinning heart.

4. Dalmatian

There is an art to this. To shish
kebab the varnished pit of avocado
on three toothpicks above a pickle jar
of cool water, tease down the pale
thirsty hairs of root until one sinewy
arm punches up and unclenches its green
fisted hand, palm open, to the sun.
To discern the oniony star-struck
subterfuge of bulbs, their perverse
desires, death-like sleeps, and conspire
behind the scenes to embroider
the Elizabethan ruffles and festoons
of their flamboyant resurrections.
To trick the tomatoes into letting down
their swelling, tumescent orbs
in the cottony baked heat of the attic
until their sunburnt faces glow
like round orange lanterns under
the crepuscular twilight of the eaves.
Unwrapping the cuttings of succulents
from their moist, paper-towel bandages,
and snugging them down into firm
dimples of dirt and peat, coaxing up
the apple-green serpentine coils of sweet
pea with a snake charmer’s song to wind
around the trellis and flicker their quick
pink-petaled tongues. The tender slips
of mint, sueded upturned bells of petunia,
and slim fingers of pine that pluck
the metal window screen like a tin harp
by the breakfast nook where my father
stirs his morning coffee and waits
for the neighbors’ Dalmatian to hurl
itself over the back fence and hang,
limply twisting and gasping on the end
of its chain and collar like a polka-dotted
petticoat, until my father goes outside
and takes its baleful kicking weight
in his arms and gently tosses it back
over the fence into the neighbors’ yard.
Year after year, the dandelions
and clover are weeded out, summers
come and go, and roots stubbornly inch
down around the foundation of the house—
labyrinthine, powerful and deep.

5. Japanese Apple

She was given an apple on the plane,
round and fragrant with the scent
of her grandfather’s fruit orchards
during autumn, when chestnuts
dropped from their trees and struck
the metal rooftop like the small heavy
tongues of bells, and black dragon-
flies like quick shiny needles darted
in and out of the spin and turn
of leaves fluttering down like soft
bright scraps of silk. She wrapped
the apple in a napkin to save
for later, and it was confiscated
at customs before she had the chance
for even a taste. Over the years it
seemed to grow larger, yellower, juicier
and more delicious, and even though
there were burnished rows of apples
stacked in gleaming pyramids
at the supermarket with quaint
names like Macintosh, Winesap,
and Granny Smith, and even though
there were sunlit apple orchards
at my American grandfather’s ranch,
where rattlesnakes slumbered
in the heat and redolence of fruit
flesh, frightening the horses,
she sampled one after another,
but they never tasted as sweet
or as bright as the apple taken from her,
the one she had to leave behind.

Lee Ann Roripaugh, “Transplanting” from Year of the Snake. Copyright © 2004 by Lee Ann Roripaugh. Reprinted by permission of Southern Illinois University Press.
Source: Year of the Snake (Southern Illinois University Press, 2004)
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