cover image Toxic Flora

Toxic Flora

Kimiko Hahn, Norton, $24.95 (128p) ISBN 978-0-393-07662-2

Hahn's eighth book of poems takes its inspiration from the science section of the New York Times. These sharp, gut-punching lyrics quote from and/or borrow the diction of science writing in order to investigate more personal issues, including the traumas of girlhood, adolescence, and family in general, as well as the intricacies of love. But the real thrill comes not from Hahn's personal revelations but from the ways they dovetail so surprisingly with contemporary scientific observations: "What does this demonstrate about toxins/ or residence?" she asks in the title poem, about a butterfly that has evolved poison to deter predators, "Or carrying around a portion of the childhood home// where the father instructs the daughter on the uses of poison/ then accuses her of being so potent?" Elsewhere, science illuminates wounds that can't be overcome: "the constant banging and colliding of planetoids/ creates new dust," notes Hahn (The Artist's Daughter) in "Stardust." "Fascinating," she continues, "all this debris/ circulating in our own fringes,/ giving rise to zodiacal light// and a reason for developing sharper telescopes:// the father spanking the ten-year-old/ just out of the shower// and because she already had breast buds// she didn't want anyone to look." Other poems meditate on water, the planets, and birds in what may be Hahn's best book to date. (May)