Book Review: ‘Invasives’ by Emily Kingery

Emily Kingery’s Invasives (Finishing Line Press) opens in a garden and closes in a garden, repeatedly returning to Eden and tearing it down with one consistent throughline: that which is invasive.

The opening poem, “Musk Thistle,” weaves together two concepts such that they are inextricable. It talks about pulling weeds and ponders the difference between a weed and any other plant, relating that imagery to the way we accidentally sow figurative and digital seeds in our own lives.

Our speaker lingers in her childhood, hands us Barbies and woodchips, and pulls us through basements and playgrounds, laying groundwork for ways our desires hold us captive. Kingery repeatedly gives visceral illustrations of how lovers leave deep-rooted, impossible traumas in their wake. She makes us fall in love with bad men, asking, “Who argues / with men who undress you / the way summer does / to spring,” in the poem “April.”

She reminds us of young love, unrequited love, the pain of trying to exist in spaces not made for you. This collection hit closer to home than I could have anticipated and in darker corners than I’d like to admit. I think that’s an accurate picture of Invasives: a pretty package with ornate scaffolding built around our hauntings.

It’s probably true that not everyone has had experiences like those outlined in Invasives: abusive lovers, the allure of toxins, the belief that belief alone can save us. But Kingery’s felicity is unparalleled — she pries universals out of snapshots from slumber parties and crushing on Indiana Jones and the specific boredom that means the end of coming of age. We are not all from the small town in which our narrator learns how to want and how not to love, but we do all learn these things.

Reading the poem “Toxicity” (the title and refrain derived from the System of a Down song), I understand how the unrequited can be romantic. Kingery’s language is potent, her scenes developed and raw. The book itself is invasive. Where you might expect to feel voyeuristic, instead you wear the narrator’s skin, her story coiling inside you.

What really gives these poems power is their bald-faced realism. The language is often flowery, but the images depicted here are disaster photography. They are high-contrast black-and-whites of crime scenes and personal tragedy, the best of which combine soft, natural elements with the grit of drugs or basement parties. As in “Tricks,” “I have read enough / to know I am half-gone already. I have cut enough flesh / that when the crosscut saw is flourished in the garden for the final trick, my body will disappear on its own.”

There are poems in here about happy things, beautiful moments of confidence and change, and the collection even gives opportunity to the reader to choose their own adventure with the way the book ends. Invasives is a fever-dream journey through trauma, but you get through it.

This article was originally published in Little Village’s March 2023 issues.