favorite caterpillars & octopus hair (lee ann roripaugh)

history was not a favorite of mine in school. why? because it was so boring, so hard to remember – countless dates, rulers’ names, places of battle or signed contracts, but nothing more to it. nothing “real.”
history without people – i never really saw much point in it, when it is (or should be) all about people. i find it’s the only way i can tackle history. my poem “stillborn (1918)” [which will appear in barely south review’s september issue this year] is one such attempt at coming to grips with history through individual narrative.

{Caption: One of the young Heart Mountain school children
enjoying a swing on the center’s play ground.
Photographer: Hikaru Iwasaki — Heart Mountain, Wyoming.
11/24/43; source: Bancroft Library}

history becomes more real when we get the “story” part of history along with the dates and names. and it becomes more interesting all of a sudden. in any case, i mentioned weeks ago that i was reading lee ann roripaugh’s “beyond heart mountain” and then i never told you more about it. sometimes when i do that it’s because the book was a dud. or because i ended up not reading it. but this book is no dud. and i did read it. several times. i guess it was hard to figure out what to say about it.

i would like to let the book speak for itself, sharing a few snippets – though i have to say i would love to share all of it! these poems tell stories across three parts: part one speaks of childhood during the time leading up to the relocation of japanese americans, part two is set in heart mountain, and part three seems more contemporary. antelope hunting and music lessons, a love for insects and hair streaming like octopus ink, the images in these poems are varied and vivid.

i had never heard of heart mountain before this book, but then, as i said, history was not my strongest subject in school, though i doubt they would have mentioned it in german secondary school history classes. mind you it might have been good to know about these camps at that point.

in any case, reading beyond heart mountain did not just add a historical place name to my memory, the place is alive with people, such as the little girl who can’t play with her friend because the family cannot afford for her to wear out her shoes. and brothers who each choose differently – one, to fight, the other, to not become a soldier.

my favorite bits in this book – well it’s hard to choose. possibly the story of miss yamada (“chrysanthemums”). also, “the fish wife” is an amazing poem. and then there are bits that sparkle and wink and entangle your thoughts as you read, on every page.

it’s a short book, so i encourage you to read the whole thing, and will just leave you with a snippet that is not representative of the poetry between these covers, but nonetheless lovely.

from “songs for an approaching rainy season”:

the cat curls into / my armpit – wrapped nose to tail, neat / as a croissant,  / / and my chilled fingers greedily / skim the yeasty / rise of his side, buttery glaze / / of yellow fur. 

About annette.c.boehm

words escape me.

One comment

  1. History has always been difficult for me, in high school I had a teacher that was just interested in names, dates, and places. Funny but when I read history all I read is the story and somehow my brain skims over the facts. I love discovering history through the people as well, I just did a report on Margaret Haley, an influential educator from the late 1800's to the early 1900's. The stuff they had to deal with was crazy. That time period came alive for me as I read about her story. Teresa

add your two cents!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: