Cover image for Beyond Heart Mountain
Beyond Heart Mountain
Roripaugh, Lee Ann.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Penguin Books, 1999.
Physical Description:
x, 70 pages ; 22 cm.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3568.O717 H4 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Lee Ann Roripaugh has been hailed by Ishmael Reed as "one of the brightest talents" writing poetry today. In this collection, she gives voice to the Japanese immigrants of the American West. In an unforgiving land of dirt and sagebrush, mothers labor to teach their children of the ocean, old men are displaced by geography and language, and the ghosts of Hiroshima clamor for peace. Lee Ann Roripaugh 's exquisitely crafted poems rise from the pages of Beyond Heart Mountain burdened with memory and pain, yet converting these to powerful art--art that is like "the pattern of kimono found burned into a woman after Hiroshima . . . almost too beautiful, too horrible . . . to bear."

Remember to raise
bright orbs of rice-paper lanterns
by the goldfish pond,

so they can watch for me
with the yellow, unblinking gaze
of nocturnal things . . .

--from " Peony Lantern "

Author Notes

Lee Ann Roripaugh was born and raised in Laramie, Wyoming. Selected by Ishmael Reed for the 1998 National Poetry Series, her previous honors include the Randall Jarrell International Poetry Prize in 1995 and the Academy of American Poets Prize in 1993.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Many poets have sought to reconcile war's irreversible alteration of the normal course of human lives and memories. In this debut narrative triptych, selected by Ishmael Reed for the National Poetry Series, Roripaugh manages to bring a history she never experienced through her own past, to her present self. The first section is written from the perspective of a young Vietnam-era girl trying to piece together a multiple identity from within a small Wyoming town. The icons of her Japanese heritageÄdolls, bells, music, and foodÄare a source of pride and confusion: "I'm half-and-half, and I hide/ in the house, listen to my parents'/ music. Outside on the pavement/ a tsuzumi drum, accompanied by suzu,/ temple bells, coming from their/ bedroomÄthe chime on my father's/ typewriter." The second section, "Heart Mountain, 1943," tells the stories of 10 Japanese prisoners held at the Heart Mountain internment camp, weaving together polyvocal narrative fragments that talk to the reader (and each other) across the stark walls of the cell blocks. Part three of the book includes poems told from the perspective of an older and self-assured woman who has embraced the cultural contrasts of her complicated ancestry, and can now separate the shadow of war from her own psychic and personal growth: "...leaf prints etched in black mold, like/ the pattern of/ a kimono found burned into/ a woman after/ Hiroshima, and it is almost/ too beautiful, / too horrible for me to bear." Such images may not, finally, reconcile war and grief with aesthetics, but the book's drive toward clarity and strength is often moving. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Ishmael Reed's choice for this year's "National Poetry" series is easy to like: a first collection born, like its author, from the union of a United States military man and a Japanese woman during World War II. Roripaugh, who is also a pianist with a performance degree from Indiana University, convincingly re-creates her mother's war-bound world in clear, concise free verse, fusing classical Japanese poetic imageryÄchrysanthemums, the moon, kimono sleevesÄwith the violence of war, occupation, and internment in the United States: "She says/ oysters make them, when there's/ sand or gravel under their shells./ It hurts. And the more it hurts/ the bigger the pearl." American racism and cruelty is detailed in "Heart Mountain, 1943," a long first-person narrative about an internment camp; in the prose poem "Chrysanthemums," the poet's mother recounts childhood koto lessons cut short by war. Other narrators are ghosts, or spirit-lovers, a classical Japanese conceit that resonates in light of recent history. But most of all these are the poems of a girl in the land-locked American West, where an Asian American may be treated only slightly better than a Native American, and squid in a sink smells like a lost country. This is a fine first collection.ÄEllen Kaufman, Dewey Ballantine Law Lib., New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One     PEARLS Mother eats seaweed and plum pickles, and when the Mormons come knocking she does bird-talk. I've never seen an ocean, but I'd swim in one to look for secrets. She has a big pearl from my oji-san, says it will be mine when she's dead. It's in a drawer hidden with silver dollars. I hope she doesn't buy a ticket, go back to her sisters and leave me. With stinging strokes, she brushes my hair, pulls it into pigtails that stretch my face flat. I walk to school across sagebrush while she watches from her bedroom window. Once I found a prairie dog curled sleeping on the ground and I brushed away ants on his eyes. Mother saw me dilly-dally, told me not to touch dead things. I have a red box in my desk with a dragon lid that screws on and off. It smells sweet from face cream and I keep a kokeishi doll inside for good luck. Wishing for more colors in my crayon pail, I make up stories about mermaids and want a gold crayon to draw hair, silver for their tails. But we can't afford lots of kid junk. I have piano lessons. She says I'll be a doctor someday but I think I'd like to be a fireman or maybe a roller derby queen. One day when I was walking home some boys on bikes flew down around me like noisy crows. They kept yelling Kill the Jap! I ran fast as I could but fell in the dirt, got up and fell. My mother came running to me. She carried me home, picked out the gravel, washed off blood, tucked me into her bed and let me wear the ring for awhile. I wish I had long, white skinny fingers, gold hair and a silver tail. I'd gather baskets of pearls. But my hair is black, my fingers stubby. Mother tells me they're not found just floating underwater. She says oysters make them, when there's sand or gravel under their shells. It hurts. And the more it hurts, the bigger the pearl.     NINGYO I. She took me everywhere in my crocheted lace dresses, embroidered initials. It pleased her I could say hippopotamus so I said it in the supermarket. After hot baths, laid out on the counter, my hair floating in the sink like seaweed, she would hand me a mirror. See? Tako-chan, the octopus has left his ink. I had a Japanese doll, a snow queen in a glass case I couldn't touch. I named her Yoshiko, my mother's name, Sometimes when she was sleeping, I pried her eyelids open, to make sure she wasn't dead. II. I was angry we ate Ramen every night. She wouldn't let me shave my legs, and my grandparents were stern pictures wrapped in rice paper. She said I gave her high blood pressure, and I felt she was cold as Yoshiko. III. My father bought me an orange hat, vest, earplugs, a cheesecloth for the carcass. She packed up obento, a coolerful of Tab and beer. We got to Shirley Basin before dawn, gutting my antelope by noon. Some drunk men drove by in a pickup and yelled, Goddamn, it's a girl. Circling the prairie he told me, There are things you don't understand. That night we cooked over a kerosene stove and drank Coors. As I lay awake, I could see a woman who married an enemy soldier. The frost began to glisten on my sleeping bag. Stars, an eyelid opening the sky.