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Kimiko White's Fever Memory: Book Review

Chuang Tzu in dream became a butterfly, And the butterfly became Chuang Tzu at waking. Which was the real—the butterfly or the man? Who can tell the end of the endless changes of things?

—Li Po


Butterflies, found on every continent but Antarctica, are creatures emblematic of migration and metamorphosis or of “the endless changes of things.” Concerning Kimiko White’s debut Fever Memory, the butterfly is the collection’s foremost aesthetic gesture, which can be read in literal and figurative ways across these 86 pages. Indeed, the silhouetted pair of Lepidoptera that graces the book’s cover asserts their prominence in the collection’s opening poem: “Second Story Sightings,” the “Two yellow butterflies danc[ing] together every afternoon” in the speaker’s second story vantage. These butterflies complement the wind, accent the sun, ornament the trees – embellishing the wider world and indicating to the speaker “that there’s something to / look forward to.” In light of this, I begin to wonder: what kind of journey or transformation is White’s speaker hoping for that they seek such assurance in the outside world?


Fever Memory is divided into two sections: “The Art of Loving and Losing” and “The Art of Perseverance.” The “The Art of Loving and Losing” is predominately a walk through the speaker’s inner landscape in the wake of a failed romantic relationship, a guidebook of one’s living with, through, and without the love of another while retaining a sense of oneself; the latter section operates in many moments as a travelogue, taking the reader on a tour of the exterior of the speaker’s world, which says that to persevere is to rely on one’s wealth of connections to place, people, music, food, ritual, and spirituality. There’s a paradox at play here: whereas the first section explores the greater transformation in the collection’s speaker, the poems don’t necessarily move the reader through space; we stay in the realm of the speaker’s inner life. The poems in the second section flitter across the lower 48: “the South,” “Alabama,” “Hoboken,” “Los Angeles,” and “New York subways” while the speaker in these pieces feels more resolute and grounded, certain of their reality. We see that these sections don’t directly intersect. Yet, they run as parallel streams and, conceptually and cognitively, act in concert to weave a rich tapestry of one woman’s path through a life and its infinite variations, divergences, near-misses, and depths to be plumbed.


The strongest moments in Fever Memory are the quiet, brief understatements, often aphoristic and vivid, that incorporate elements of the natural world as corollaries to the poems’ human emotions: “creaking floorboards at night / remind me that even the wind / is trying to sneak away”; “the wind pushes the waves toward me in herds / to tell me great news”; the anomalous rain in Los Angeles prompting “small talk from strangers”; “snowflakes greeting me, kissing me / softly for the first time”; the aforementioned butterflies of the opening poem. In these instances, we can see White’s gift for compressed images that contain multitudes, haiku-like in their immediacy, breadth, and subtlety.


The collection’s final poem, “Bliss,” would appear to close the circle, to bring the speaker around to something like resolve: “I am finally able to stretch my wings...How wonderful it feels to be free.” And we are asked to reckon with yet another paradox: that the speaker can feel security and protection in freedom, what with all the attendant uncertainty that necessarily comes with being free. Perhaps there is no paradox, and it comes down to acceptance. Perhaps that is the freedom that White’s speaker comes to by the book’s close. Perhaps that is the arc of transformation across Fever Memory, “that there is something to / look forward to,” and this something is an acknowledgment that there is no end to the endless changes of things.


Click here to purchase Fever Memory.


 

About Marko: Marko Capoferri is a poet, musician, and former conservation worker. He has lived and worked in eight US states, including Montana, where he has lived since 2015. He is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Montana in Missoula. His work has previously appeared in Porter House Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Anti-Heroin Chic, Opt West, and elsewhere.

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