Like an ink-wash painting, The Only Country Was the Color of My Skin captures in its lines and tones the landscape of post-war America, personal history and a hybrid culture. In her second collection, Kathleen Hellen records the "things of beauty" and the "awful things," as Sei Shōnagon described them in The Pillow-Book, evoking the tension between conformity and conflict. Hellen experiments with traditional forms like haiku, haibun and zuihitsu and summons the ghosts of Noh to connect with family and ancestors.
The Only Country Was the Color of My Skin presents the world through the eyes of a speaker caught in layers of history and mythology. Kathleen Hellen’s poems, beautiful in their density and haunting in their breadth, defy silence as they tell stories of a family haunted by the spectres of war and relocation. In this book, Tojo and Hirohito must reconcile with Mothra and Mr. Moto, Tokyo with the effects of Manzanar—these poems don’t shy away from the complexities and contradictions of being Japanese American in our world. Hellen insists, ‘I have a mouth to tell my story.’ Thank goodness for her voice.”
—W. Todd Kaneko, author of The Dead Wrestler Elegies