Knot Work / Not Work / Knot Hole / Not Whole: A Mapping / Jishin-no-ben

Lee Ann Roripaugh

1.Knot is a tangle, a problem that needsunraveling. Not is the thing that isn’t / doesn’t /wouldn’t. Knot a securing, a way of holding on.Not security’s antithesis—a refusal to holdor to be held. Lover’s knot / not lovers / allfor naught. Knotty pine paint paddles brokenin a splintered rage when spanking the non-compliantchild. Not I, said the spy. (Knot eye.) Not the eyeskimming smoothly up the trunk into blue sky,but a knot eye, a visual paradox, a trompe l’oeil.2.Formed in trunks where branches used to be,or where the trunk’s growth has choked offthe smaller, lower branches in a tree. Each knotthe mark of a tightening tourniquet surroundinga phantom limb. Each knot a scar, a tougheningover to cauterize loss, seal the body shut so it doesn’tbleed out in the snow. In a concentration campin Minidoka, Idaho, wood artist George Nakashimalearned to burnish the souls of trees through their scars:their knots, their holes, their cracks, their broken histories.3.At the assisted living center your motheris furious, says someone has snitched one of her laceantimacassars. You envision unopened mail wedgedbehind the toilet, her soiled underwear hiddenbeneath the bed. You think of how clever her handsused to be: deftly recuperating dropped stitchesin her knitting, untangling snarled thread in her lacecrochet. You imagine the sticky knots of plaqueblotting out words like dropped stitches in her brain,her troubled neurons a snarl of neurofibrillary tangles.4.Burl’s the wood formed when a tree is sickor stressed, causing the grain to arabesqueinto strange spirals, distorted forms, eye-spottedwith visible knots. Burl erupts when infestationsof insects or mold spread unchecked beneath bark’sfaçade, the burl becoming larger, more ornate,as the tree continues to grow. They sound like tumors,or eyesores, but burl’s actually expensive and rare.A tree can’t survive without its burl. When burlis cut from a tree while it’s still alive, the tree dies.5.Your mother’s mind is a scarred knot workof missing branches, cratered-in knot holes—leaving an emptiness she senses, fills withthe gaudy knick-knacks of conspiracy and delusion.You think of scientists using mirrors to trick mirrorneurons into resolving phantom limb syndrome.But as much as you efface yourself into shininess,into neutral reflection—as if to try and trickyour mother’s pain into misrecognizing its own gazeuntil it lifts away like burned-off fog—it never works.

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Lee Ann Roripaugh (she/they) is a biracial Nisei. Her 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. They are 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. Their chapbook, #stringofbeads, was just released by Diode Editions. The South Dakota State Poet Laureate from 2015-2019, Roripaugh is a Professor of English at the University of South Dakota, where they serve as Director of Creative Writing and Editor-in-Chief of South Dakota Review.

Jan/Feb 2023

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Elizabeth Scanlon

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