Kimiko Hahn--American


Kimiko Hahn
(1955-        )

Kimiko Hahn is a poet and educator. Partly of Japanese descent she was born in Mt. Kisco, New York in 1955. She studied English and East Asian Studies at the University of Iowa and received an M.A. in Japanese Literature from Columbia University in 1984. She is the author of seven collections of poetry, including The Narrow Road to the Interior, The Artist’s Daughter, Mosquito and Volatile. She received the American Book Award for her collection, The Unbearable Heart which was published in 1995. Hahn has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, The Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Price and the Association of Asian American Studies Literature Award. She is a Distinguished Professor of English at Queens College/CUNY.


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
a hand that tore the door open
pushed me on the floor
ripped me up—
I will never have children again
So even today
my hair has not grown back
my teeth still shards
and one eye blind
and it would be easy,
satisfying somehow
to write it off as history
those men are there

each time I close
my one good eye
each time or lay blame 
on men or militarists
the children cry out
in my sleep
where they still live
for the sake of a night’s rest.
But it isn’t air raids
That we survive
But gold worth its weight
In blood the coal,
Oil, uranium we mine
And drill
Yet cannot call our own
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.