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Aimee Nezhukumatathil



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.





“…and when I turn on the light you scuttle/

into the corners and there is this hiss upon the land.”

                                    --Anne Sexton


 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.






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.

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