Inspired by her encounter with Dr. Chevalier Jackson’s collection of ingested curiosities at Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, Kimiko Hahn’s tenth collection investigates the grip that seemingly insignificant objects exert on our lives. Itself a cabinet of curiosities, the collection provokes the same surprise, wonder, and pangs of recognition Hahn felt upon opening drawer after drawer of these swallowed, and retrieved, objects—a radiator key, a child’s perfect attendance pin, a mother-of-pearl button. The speaker of these moving poems sees reflections of these items in the heartbreaking detritus of her family home, and in her long-dead mother’s Japanese jewelry.
As Hahn remakes the lyric sequence in chains reminiscent of the Japanese tanka, the foreign bodies of the title expand to include the immigrant woman’s trafficked body, fossilized remains, a grandmother’s Japanese body. She explores the relationship between our innermost selves and the relics of our vanished past, making room for meditation on grief and the ephemeral nature of the material world, for the account of a nineteenth-century female fossil hunter, and for a celebration of the nautilus. Foreign Bodies investigates the power of possession, replete with Hahn’s electric originality and thrilling mastery of ever-changing forms.