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Kingdom Animalia
By Aracelis Girmay
BOA Editions, Ltd.


"Trust we'll know your shape, whatever species in you answers when we put our faces to the dirt & call you by your old & human name."

In this book, Girmay connects with siblings, parents and ancestors, often bringing them back to life or discovering them in another. Early on, she asks, "What to do with this knowledge, that our living is not guaranteed?"

But Kingdom is also about loss and changing. In "Dear Minnie, Dear Ms." dedicated to the songbird Minnie Riperton and to the poet Lucille Clifton, Girmay imagines both women after death: "Trust the mud is you, & the soft, silver afro of the dandelion. Trust the grass-whistle might be your speech, high as the whistle of the whale. Trust we'll know your shape, whatever species in your answers when we put our faces to the dirt & call you by your old & human name." In "Noche de Lluvia, San Salvador" raindrops fall off the page singing, "sí sí sí sí sí sí." In "La boda del Mar y Arena," the poet writes, "The sea & beach move into each other's mouths, particle by particle; each one wanders the big rooms of the other. O, god, let us love like they love."

There is a saying in Spanish, "Cada cabeza es un mundo," which translates "every mind is a universe unto itself." And Girmay's world, universe, opens new ways of seeing the simplest things and giving them voice. Everything contains some clue of another self, body or kindred spirit. Like an archeologist, she digs deeply finding herself in every living thing, even in the inanimate. Her magic is poetry at its best.
—Gregg Barrios

For the complete text of this article, see the National Book Critic's Circle blog, The Critical Mass.

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