The Unbearable Heart

Hahn, Kimiko

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell
  • Date of entry: Jan-24-1998


This collection of poems is a sustained meditation on, and coming to terms with, grief. The speaker's mother has been killed suddenly in an automobile accident and most of the book's first poems deal with the aftermath of her death. For example, in "The Toll Attendant," the speaker describes asking directions to the hospital "where mother's body / may be retrieved at our earliest convenience."

In the title poem, the speaker asks, "And now that she's gone how do we find her-- / especially my small daughters who will eventually recall their grandmother / not as a snapshot in the faults of the mind/ but as the incense in their hair long after the reading of the Lotus Sutra." In thinking about her father's wish to bring back his wife from death, "to retrieve her–", the speaker asks, "what hell is this where each article emits the fragrance of mother's cold cream."


Winner of the 1996 American Book Award, this is a complex book, one that also looks closely at the uses of language. There are two long poems with extended use of quotations from Roland Barthes and Gustave Flaubert. These are beautiful, but most useful for students of medicine are probably the first twelve poems in the book that detail the issues with which the family must grapple the first year after the mother's death.


Kimiko Hahn is of Japanese descent.

Primary Source

The Unbearable Heart



Place Published

New York



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