Kimiko Hahn is a poet who was born in 1955 in Mount Kisco, New York, to a Japanese American mother and a German American Father, both of whom were artists. Ms. Hahn received her undergrad English degree from the University of Iowa and her Master’s in Japanese literature in Columbia University. She has several collections of poetry including “The Unbearable Heart” which received an American Book Award. I found her book Toxic Flora in my local library and the poems are elegant, fierce, and complex while beautiful and thought provoking. She mixes real life with scientific forays into plants and insects and often connects the discoveries to revelations about her own family. Here I will share a few excerpts from a few poems below:
protect through venom and candor
While timing their own dinners
to mother’s tray, father’s tongs,
they can sting any intruder repeatedly
unlike the honeybee’s suicidal sortie.
through simple narration:
your mouth never stops moving.
Or, you eat off other plates as if they’re your own.
A startling attribute I wish I could emulate
if only my sting possessed such integrity.
I could not include the poem in its entirety since I do not have permission from the poet or publisher to do so however I hope I’ve included enough to do the poem justice. Ms. Hahn incorporates the stinging activities of the yellow jacket with the stinging words in italics of people which makes a great pairing in the poem to get its point across. The poet wishes she had the ability to sting with words the way a yellow jacket is able to sting repeatedly its enemy. Don’t we all wish we had that ability at times?
Only the rare butterfly eats
the Hyposmacoma’s caterpillar
weaves silk around a mollusk
fastening the shell to a leaf
then sticks its head inside,
eating the snal alive.
to a wolf that dives for clams.
I see it as a little girl
who tears apart a little friend
Or a mother who rips open her own infant
to release the demon inside.
This hunger is less rare
than a butterfly with sharp teeth.
My mother is from Maui.
I really hope both publisher and poet forgive me for including nearly the entire poem but it is hard to portray the meaning without including most of the lines. In any case, what I love is that the poet first finds a rare phenomenon among a particular species and then pairs it with the destructive behaviors (not always so rare) among humans who tear each other apart either physically, mentally, or emotionally. The ending line “My mother is from Maui” is the most startling of the entire poem. Is Ms. Hahn’s mother cruel? Or is she simply from the same location as this particular species of butterfly? Either way I enjoy being left to ponder the idea as it lends itself towards re-reading the poem and taking in more details. Children who hurt their friends, mothers who try to release the demons in an infant and what kind of demons would an infant possess? Finally, what about her mother? The ultimate curiosity with which we’re left on our own to ponder.
I don’t understand space—the emptiness
Take the protostar: I can’t grasp
how clouds of dust and gas can collapse
then suck up more stuff and expand
where did Mother disappear
after the car crash? Where
is my daughters’ grandmother
since they’ve learned there is no heaven—
except for rose, hedge, and pine?
a thing breaks down
yet shows no sign of ceasing?
And what now is the nature of her form?
Existential, yes, but poetry is about life, death, the living in between. Ms. Hahn questions what happens to the soul after death, the energy that space takes up despite constant collapse and destruction, death and rebirth. Who among us doesn’t wonder the same thing when a loved one passes away? Ms. Hahn’s version is elegant, spare, and beautiful which is what we need to read sometimes in order to find solace.
I hope that you enjoyed the excerpts of these poems, I can only hope I did them justice. There are countless poems I would like to share and many are too short for me to pull excerpts from so I urge you to find a copy for yourself.
To learn more about Kimiko Hahn, see the link below:
To obtain a copy of Toxic Flora for yourself you may find one in your own local library or at:
Thanks always for reading, please drop in again tomorrow for more Poems Found by Poet Hound…