IN PRAISE OF MY MANICURE
Because I was taught all my life to blend in, I want
my fingernails to blend out: like preschoolers
who stomp their rain boots in a parking lot, like coins
who wink at you from the scatter-bottom of a fountain,
like red starfish who wiggle a finger dance at you,
like green-faced Kathakali dancers who shape
their hands into a bit of hello with an anjali—I tell you
from now on, I and my children and their children
will hold four fingers up—a pallavam, a fresh sprout
with no more shame, no more shrink, and if the bright
colors and glittered stars of my fingernails scare you,
I will shape my fingers into sarpasirassu—my favorite,
a snake—sliding down my wrist and into each finger:
Just look at these colors so marvelous so fabulous,
say the two snakes where my brown arms once were.
See that movement near my elbow, now at my wrist?
A snake heart can slide up and down the length of its body
when it needs to. You’ll never be able to catch my pulse, my shine.
THE COCKROACH RESPONDS
“…and when I turn on the light you scuttle/
into the corners and there is this hiss upon the land.”
But of course you didn’t stick around for the bloom
of babies. And whatever evil I was given,
I swallowed, which is more than I can say
for some women. It became a beautiful swell
in my side and when my body could not bear it,
I stood on my head and offered myself up
to the lavender lining of the clouds: the world
and all I knew could be would be good again.
I have another chance. My young will learn
to land safe, even though they can never
sprout wings. I’ll teach them the fine trick
of walking up jelly-smeared aquarium glass.
You can bet these babies will always remember
to watch out for sticky-tongue and beak.
WHILE RIDING AN ELEPHANT, I THINK OF UNICORNS
PERIYAR NATIONAL PARK, INDIA
The elephant takes me deeper into the bamboo forest
and I start to worry about what other animals
might be hiding here. The stalks so thick and clustered
in tight walls of green, it makes me wonder
about the tiger preserve nearby and how
this would make a lovely place to find
a dinner date, if I was a disgruntled tiger.
Or if I was a unicorn—and needed some peace
and privacy—this would definitely be the ideal spot.
And when I daydream about unicorns, I can’t help
but think of that little frog in the right hand corner
of that famous medieval tapestry, Unicorn
in Captivity. That fat and sassy unicorn—almost
smiling in repose—while it munches pomegranate seeds
fallen from the swollen tree under which it sits.
The unicorn seems oblivious to the wily frog
in the lower right-hand corner who hides in a bed
of violets. And the lesson that this frog teaches me
here atop this elephant, deep in this bamboo—
is to not panic. Even when so clearly out of place
and nothing seems familiar. Enjoy the view.
There will be plenty of time for delicious
and comfortable water-spots. That frog
doesn’t know he will be part of history’s
most memorable image of the unicorn.
He just sits there, enjoying the view
in his wee wool-warp, silk and gilt wefts,
grateful for the fields of flowered finery.
-from Oceanic, Copper Canyon Press, 2018
BIO: AIMEE NEZHUKUMATATHIL is the author of four books of poetry, most recently, Oceanic, winner of the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award. Other awards for her writing include fellowships and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Mississippi Arts Council, and MacDowell. Her writing appears in Poetry, The New York Times Magazine, ESPN, and Tin House. Her book of illustrated nature essays is forthcoming with Milkweed. She serves as poetry faculty for the Writing Workshops in Greece and is professor of English and Creative Writing in the University of Mississippi’s MFA program.