Ruminative. Ancestral. War Stories. Mary-Kim Arnold's The Fish & The Dove
Mary-Kim Arnold's debut poetry collection, The Fish & The Dove is out now from Neomi Press. The collection can be purchased through the publisher’s website. The Fish & The Dove was the March 2020 Rumpus Poetry Club selection and has received a Publisher’s Weekly review.
The Fish & The Dove is primarily a reflection on a woman's identity obstructed by the lens of her inherited history. The narrator's ability to understand herself is directly tied to the history that has been passed down to her, which she can discover only through secondary sources. She fails to fully tether her identity to her life in America and strives for an understanding of herself through the storytellers of history. Arnold writes, “I take a weekend away to write but spend whole days/ watching war documentaries online.”
Arnold’s poems are a reflection of the past shown on the body of one living in the present. There is the ever-present insignia of trauma carried down through familial lines. In several pieces, the narrator attempts to understand her existence by examining the history of her birth mother, who lived through the Korean war. This narrator feels a barrier between her understanding of herself and her history, and in response inserts herself into accounts of the war her mother endured, attempting to understand herself through imagining the timeline thwarted by her migration to the United States.
The evocation of history imbues itself throughout the collections. The phrase, “..will not bring my mother back…” echoes across poems, as the narrator attempts to hold on to the memory of her mother by learning her history. The constant and vigilant reminder of her history conserves the existence of her mother, whom she is unable to define herself without.
The pervading landscape across Arnold’s poems is a battlefield. The war between peoples, the war between women and men, the war between mother and daughter, and the war between the past and the present. There is no neutrality in binaries. Arnold writes,“...see, here is where you will recognize what side you are on/ see, here is how you will know where you belong…”. In one piece, the narrator asks her American family, “Was I the good Korean or the bad one?” Her American family’s avoidance of the answer tells her, “The bad Korean, for sure.”
The collection also shifts between narratives of the noble and common classes. Arnold writes, “...What is history if not the breath/of the damned rising up?” History, both personal and collective, is marked by battles. She writes, “...in the battle of whales/the backs of shrimp are broken…”. The question left for the reader, then, is where can our narrator find herself amongst these distinctions?