cover image Tree Spirits Grass Spirits

Tree Spirits Grass Spirits

Hiromi Ito, trans. from the Japanese by Jon L. Pitt. Nightboat, $19.95 trade paper (188p) ISBN 978-1-64362-192-0

These ruminative essays by poet Ito (The Thorn Puller) explore assimilation, mortality, and identity through the lens of botany. In “The Plants in My Front Yard,” Ito recounts struggling to adjust to life in the U.S. after immigrating to Southern California from Japan with her three daughters in the late 1990s, and notes that she feels an affinity for oxalis flowers that grew around her house, portraying them as fellow immigrants that traveled from their native North America to Japan, where they’re considered a “naturalized species.” The elliptical entries leave readers to piece together their meaning, as in “Living Trees and Dying Trees,” in which Ito describes dealing with the death of her father while visiting Japan with her pregnant daughter and relates how she mistook the red color of a camphor tree’s dying leaves for new growth. As translator Pitt’s astute introduction observes, an underlying theme uniting the essays is that “humans and plants have far more in common than we conventionally believe,” an observation Ito playfully leans into by anthropomorphizing the flora she discusses, writing that a fecund agave plant turned her backyard into “a state that resembles an agave kindergarten” and describing a sequoia sapling as “young enough to wear a diaper.” Finding the humanity in the plant world, these evocative essays will take root in readers’ minds. (Sept.)