Tuesday, October 09, 2007


How quietly the air parts

It must have been sometime in the 1990's that I first read poet Kimiko Hahn, her first book, Air Pocket, published by Hanging Loose Press in 1989. I'm struck now that many moments in her poems have stayed with me over the years, even though the poems themselves often have a deceptive simplicity, a tone and language often just slightly more compressed than speech or written prose.

Kimiko Hahn (according to the back cover of the book) was born in 1955 in Mt. Kisco, New York, to two artists, Maude Miyako Hamai, from Hawaii, and Walter Hahn, from Wisconsin. At the time Air Pocket was published she was living in Manhattan.

Hahn often finds poems in commonplace events and places, a conversation with a family member, a meal, a brief story or recollection. Her poems (in Air Pocket) sometimes remind me, in this respect, of the earlier poems of Denise Levertov or Adrienne Rich. These lines from the poem "Tea":
Repeat the same gesture
Until you hear how quietly the air parts
When your hand reaches for the purple cloth.
This posture speaks
To your neighbor's squalor,

The elegance of this cup's form and color--
How elegant your footstep:
Grandfather left Hiroshima
To burn sugar cane in Maui. But you are here
And after sitting on your knees for an hour

The starched socks separate from your ankles,
Walk over beside the teacher
And watch you rise quickly.
You walk knees bent. Relaxed. The silk
Around your ribs holds your breath.
Moving just under the surface of lyricism and historical moment in her poems, one sometimes finds the pain and quiet bitterness of breaking love:
[...] The girl wants
to sit for a while on the fire escape:

to listen to the water
draining the open fire hydrant

and cooling the street and children--
to figure out the look he gave

when she turned and small hairs
scattered across the pillow. But already

it's so oppressive. She would collect
all her combs and snap them in half

but a scent keeps her
from moving from the sheets.

By her sandals she notices an orchid
in white tissue. She reaches.
(From the poem "A Girl Combs Her Hair," which begins with the notation "after Li Ho.")

The force of storytelling is large in Hahn's poems. She has keen senses for finding the small almost random details that mark larger patterns and movements in the routine of daily life. A place and memory, a kitchen, a truck, a garden, fully evoked with a few simple sentences.
At Uncle Ted's farm
among rows of hybrid gladiolas
the deer tore and chewed
leaving behind dark spikes

when the truck pulled up
or until the sun rose.
I was eight and barely recall
the men working.
Rather the enormous
ragged stalks and deer droppings.

I don't remember
but we saw the deer.
As we turned the bend
their white tails froze
long enough for the men to swear
they'd shoot them.

The faucet was dripping
when I walked in,
a sign he'd been home
and rinsed the coffee cup
now face down
in the dish rack.
(From the poem "Gladiolas.")

Toward the later half of Air Pocket the poems grow longer and pick up their narrative power and insistence on telling the truth the poet perceives. Here the world of the poems becomes larger and more public -- I'm inclined to say more explicitly political, though I believe very strongly that all poetry (and all human expression) is in some way political, because it occurs in the context of other human actions in the world in which we live.
From the poem "The Bath: August 6, 1945":

Bathing the summer night
off my arms and breasts
I heard a plane
overhead I heard
the door rattle
then relaxed
in the cool water
one more moment
one private moment
before waking the children
and mother-in-law,
before the heat
before the midday heat
drenched my spirits again.
I had wanted
to also relax
in thoughts of my husband--
how we were children
when he was drafted
imprisoned--but didn't dare
and rose from the tub,
dried off lightly
and slipped on cotton work pants.
Caution drew me to the window
and there an enormous blossom of fire
a hand changed my life
and made the world shiver--
a light that tore flesh
so that it slipped off limbs,
swelled so
no one could recognize
a mother or child [...]

And then, further on, the poem moves from the immediate moment of the atomic bomb to the consideration of afterward, of will and consequences:
[...] And it would be gratifying
to be called a survivor
I am a survivor
since I live if I didn't wonder
about survival today--
at 55, widowed at 18--
if I didn't feel
the same oppressive August heat
auto parts in South Africa,
Mexico, Alabama,
and shiver not from memory
or terror
but anger that this wounded body
must stand take a stand
and cry out
as only a newborn baby can cry--
I live, I will live
I will to live
in spite of history
to make history
in my vision of peace--
that morning in the bath
so calm
so much my right
though I cannot return to that moment
I bring these words to you
hoping to hold you
to hold you
and to take hold.
Air Pocket is listed out-of-print by the publisher; the link to the book in the first paragraph above is to a listing in Amazon.com. There is other work by Hahn which is available, including some from Hanging Loose Press (see the other link in the first paragraph). Kimiko Hahn's poems tell essential news about our world and about the significance of the fleeting moments of our ordinary lives. Go looking for her poetry.

hi , got to know you through a news thread in gotpoetry.com . And have been reading a lot of your blogs since then .
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