Having a Coke with Godzilla
By Kazumi Chin
Sibling Rivalry Press, March 2017
82 pages, $14.95
Reviewed by Dewey N. Fox
Let me start by admitting a mistake: When I first glanced at the cover of Kazumi Chin’s new poetry collection, Having a Coke with Godzilla (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2017), I somehow skipped over the crucial one-letter article and the title registered in my mind as Having Coke with Godzilla. I thought, that’s a funny way to phrase it. Shouldn’t it instead be Doing Coke with Godzilla? The title, however, is not about sharing drugs with a monster; it is a recasting of Frank O’Hara’s paean to earthly pleasures, “Having a Coke with You.”
But my misreading connects with one of the overarching aims of Chin’s lovely book: taking America to task for its racism, its murderousness, its chauvinism, its greed. Consider: Coca-Cola began as a “nerve tonic” that actually contained cocaine; Godzilla started his life as the antagonist of an oddly touching and sad Japanese monster flick with strong anti-nuclear tones. Coke—the drugged-up snake oil that may have been less unhealthy in 1886—went on to become one of the standard-bearers of American corporatism. Godzilla—a Japanese reaction to being the target of two American nuclear bombs less than a decade before—was co-opted by Hollywood.
Chin, painfully aware of these processes, distills them down in the opening lines of his collection’s second piece, “Homeland Security Arrests Godzilla Without Reading Him His Miranda Rights as ‘White Christmas’ Fills the Air”: “The first Godzilla was an atom bomb. / Then America colonized the bomb. / Then America colonized Godzilla . . .” The poem ends with the narrator (Chin) admitting that “nobody’s going to have a Coke” with him or Godzilla, “Not even Frank O’Hara.”
Chin maintains this theme through the remainder of the collection, yet manages to weld it together with ancillary motifs of identity, depersonalization in the digital age, the redemptive power of art, and the desire to heal the world’s marginalized peoples. This is where the book triumphs.
The collection’s best amalgam of these ideas may appear in the piece “The Obsession is Real,” one of three poems built around pop star Ariana Grande, whose lyrics appear in the book’s epigraph, and whose music inspires Chin to write:
Sometimes I want to be destroyed / and resurrected, a single, pure, shining note / that stretches from the lungs of a twenty-one- / year-old girl, / winds its way around the world, / one corner of the Internet to the next. / I would find the people who need me, / give them chemotherapy.
In the more somber “Séance for Michael Brown,” Chin acknowledges that his poetry will not resurrect the murdered teenager, then shifts focus to make himself—and, in turn, the reader—the poem’s object, writing: “so let this be the poem that changes me, / let me burn every oppressive word / I’ve ever spoken, cull from my bones / all the poison I’ve been given. / I will never stop speaking your name.”
The book’s two strongest pieces are, coincidentally, its longest and one of its shortest. Both employ Chin’s recurring themes and incorporate them into creation myths. The shorter of the two, “A History of Fire,” is a gorgeous lyric, part of which reads, “This is a history of breathlessness / squeezed from tongues, of tiny words / untied from chests,” and that ends with, “Before my wings, there was sun. / Before the sun, I renounced by name. / Before the name, I was match / and flame, before being pulled apart.”
The longer, “And Wear My Crown of Sonnets,” is a nightmare-scape in blank verse, six pages of interlocking sonnets in which the first and last lines mirror each other: “And on the horizon, more ghosts hung about. / More ghosts hung about, and on the horizon . . .” The poem features a “Master” character who holds dominion over the narrator, ghosts, cats, the author himself, transformations that see that narrator becoming a fish with a Gatling gun in its back (and possibly the book’s most beautiful lines): “We became an I. I was ready to start / my descent to the heart. It was buried / underground, beating hard, deep and dark.” It is a formidable poem, and it begs re-reading perhaps more than any other piece in Chin’s collection.
But this is not to say that most the poems in Having a Coke with Godzilla don’t beg re-reading: they do. I’ll end where Chin does, with the book’s pitch-perfect closing poem, “Becoming Kazumi,” where he touches on one of the central problems in art-making: simultaneously acknowledging and ignoring your medium’s limitations; knowing that language will not raise the dead, but continuing the séance anyway: “This is the poem that’s supposed / to get me out of this mess. But I just keep diving in. / So let me love the diving. Let me never know. / I, too, can wear my own crown.”