Girmay’s voice leaps fresh and sure from the page, charged with wonder, ragged with loss. In “Abuela, Mi Muerto,” one of many elegies in the collection, the speaker searches for a way to reconnect with her grandmother by retracing her grandmother’s steps, looking for signs.
My head is thick, but I know
you are telling me something
when I hear the rooster crow,
or the hawk there circling.
Mostly it’s the birds who send me looking
for the lost room of your face.
In “Central City Senior Center, New Orleans,” inspired by an experience during Girmay's writing residency in a city in which she couldn’t walk anywhere “without thinking about how related we all are” (Rumpus interview), the speaker watches an old woman feeding pigeons. When she turns, she finds shared recognition in the friend who sees the woman with her.
The poem closes:
…What is close to my heart
is that woman, that city, you, that noon
on that dry land dressed in pigeons & daylight,
the dry land dressed in our brief lives, our lives
brief & miraculous, as the bees.
The connection Girmay senses in all things extends beyond animal to earth and water. In “La Boda del Mar y Arena,” the speaker watches the surf breaking on the sand:
the sea & beach move into each other’s mouths
particle by particle; each one wanders
the big rooms of the other.
O, god, let us love
like they love.
Three poems from the collection (the title poem, "Elegy," and "Ode to the Letter R") were published in Cortland Review's spring 2013 feature and include recordings of Girmay reading the poems.
Throughout Kingdom Animalia, Girmay’s arms-open, eyes-open tone invites us into those moments that inspire poems – times when, in her words, “I see something and feel, on the brink of the moment vanishing, like I want some other eyes to hold it, too. To see the thing I’m seeing too. To help me know that it existed once” (Rumpus interview). As a result, the poems instill, simultaneously, palpable connection and the sense “we are perpetually in a state of disappearing” (Rumpus interview).