Lee Ann Roripaugh's "The Planet of Dandar"
I’ve got a prose poem for you today, by the poet laureate of South Dakota, Lee Ann Roripaugh. Roripaugh is the daughter of a Japanese mother and a European-American father, who was also a poet laureate, of Wyoming. Growing up with a mother who spoke a heavily-accented English, Roripaugh experienced many of her first words through a unique aural filter. She calls these “word betrayals,” and this poem, “The Planet of Dandar,” explores one of them.
“The Planet of Dandar” appears in Lee Ann Roripaugh’s new collection, Dandarians, published by Milkweed Press.
Here it is, “The Planet of Dandar,” by Lee Ann Roripaugh.
Prismed through the scrim of my mother’s Japanese accent, I think dandelions are Dandarians. Dan-dare-ee-uns. Futuristic, alien—like something named after late-night B-movie space creatures from an undiscovered planet.
Maybe this is why the disturbingly lurid fronds seem too yellow to me. They seethe, I believe, with a feverishly incandescent radioactivity. I’m convinced this explains the obsessive, anxiety-laced fervor with which my parents uproot them from our lawn. As if under threat of colonization.
(Years later, reading Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, I’m shocked at the thought of imbibing dandelions as alcoholic libation. I always secretly assumed dandelions were poisonous. I’m convinced it must be a hoax. I begin to distrust the boundaries between Bradbury’s literary fiction and his science fiction.)
Because I’m the only one in my kindergarten class who can read and write, there’s shock and fallout when my confusion over Dandarians and dandelions is discovered. I receive special coaching. Slowly and loudly, as if I have suddenly become impaired: “You say dandy. Then say lion.”
Her slap flares a stung handprint on my cheek like alien handprints in the TV show Roswell. “I’m the mother,” she says. “You the daughter.” As if that explains everything. As if in another year or so I won’t make phone calls on her behalf, pretending to be my own mother so she won’t have to struggle to make herself understood to hairdressers, pharmacists, the PTA. Can they really not understand her? Or do they simply willfully refuse to comprehend?
I am five. I understand I’ve hurt my mother’s feelings without meaning to. I understand Dandarians are toxically radioactive. Just not in the ways I’d originally thought.
And so when I tell you I’m an alien—a Dandarian, hailing from the planet Dandar—I am, of course, mostly joking. But not entirely. When I tell you I’m radioactive, it’s mostly a posture. But not entirely.
On Dandar, we are partial to the theme song from Hawaii Five-O. We like the color yellow. All the best dresses chosen by mothers for daughters come in the color yellow. We eat osembei and sometimes mochi after school with hot green tea, speak our very own pidgin English at the kitchen table when my father’s at the office. My father doesn’t approve—maybe because our pidgin’s sometimes laced with the best new swear words I’ve learned at school. We never, ever answer the phone without proper deployment of the Secret Code.
Here’s my universal translation device. Although when fog threads the streets like a rough, shaggy yarn too unruly to slip through the eye of a sewing needle, the reception becomes white static and everything garbles to Babel.
This is my ray gun.
Do you know the Secret Code?
You can find “The Planet of Dandar,” in the collection Dandarians, by Lee Ann Roripaugh (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by Lee Ann Roripaugh. Used with permission from Milkweed Editions. .