Birds of Paradise by Christine Kitano | Lynx House Press 2011 | $15.95
“Plain, gray, and though I didn’t / know Latin then, still could guess / what inornatus might mean,” writes Kitano in the closing poem of her collection, referring here to the baeolophus inornatus, or plain titmouse, that flies into her family’s kitchen and is promptly killed. She demands a funeral, identifying with the poor bird:
Plain gray Christine, also known as
the plain daughter, Filia inornata
of the Kitano family. Plain gray
above, paler gray below; crest gray.
The irony of the plain, filial bird emerges when placed in conversation with the title poem of the collection, “Birds of Paradise,” which refers not to birds but to a plantfrom South Africa that looks like the birds. The title also calls to my mind the “false birds of paradise” plant from the Hawaiian islands that looks like the South African plant. I mention all this in order to call attention to the layers of resemblance and recognition—crucial themes to this book of poems. In the title poem, our plain filia inornata cups the bird of paradise plant in her hand, pretending “to be an African queen, the stunning orange / bird my companion, or Sleeping Beauty, / the flower’s sharp stigma a poisoned spindle.” A child of Japanese and Korean immigrants, her marginality and desires push her to imagine a still greater and still more exotic paradise than the one to whichher family has arrived.