From the cover, readers of Ginger Ko’s Inherit are asked to confront scale: a stark landscape inhabited by a daughter, left to “pull [herself] out of it on [her] own,” around the barren tree she holds onto and the imposing structures towering over her. Inherit speaks through three generations of women—“stepped out a daughter / mother, mother’s mother”—and their pained, inherited present of intergenerational trauma. The collection is divided into two sections: Lacunae—with left pages speaking through a shifting “I” and right pages narrating prose-poems titled “transl.”—and Sequelae, a single lyric titled “Alien” that combines the first section’s scattered and disparate voices. Verses perturb with their haunting grotesque, and translations assert the echo of erasure, the necessity to bear witness to specifically female sufferings from misogynistic pressures and obligations, emotional and physical abuse.
Women suffer not only from what they have inherited but also from “A constant fear of furthering the sequence” because trauma perpetuates trauma. There is a question, “if you birth them wouldn’t they all / be mad,” and a demand: “why did you do it/let it happen.” To refuse this cycle of pain is to contemplate ending the sequence, the stricture of duty, docility, and domesticity. When a mother says “I hold it against her,” she could mean the finger nicked by the kitchen knife or her resentment of her daughter, later echoed in the line “she wished to wrench her daughter / irreparably.” These lines are not easy to read, uncomfortable in their intimacy, but they are also tense with attempted self-acceptance. We hurt the ones we love the most, and, in these poems, victim is also aggressor, generational gaps driven further apart by internalized cultural ideals. Women are expected to be “heavy-bodied” in childbearing but “lithe” otherwise, an expectation even a mother presses on her daughter—“she reminds the daughter of being fat, of slouching, of not smiling, of ingratitude.” It takes time for intergenerational wounds to heal, if at all: “She was a grandmother before she forgave her own mother.” Perhaps the greatest defiance against erasure and social, political, cultural strictures is a ferocity in claiming one’s history, genealogy, and legacy—in confronting the precariousness of a self asserting to be more than “woman and not white.”