April 2, 2015

NPM 2015 - April 2 - Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Today's poet is Aimee Nezhukumatathil (born in Chicago in 1974). Her  bio says:
Born in 1974 in Chicago to a Filipina mother and Malayali Indian father, Aimee Nezhukumatathil is known for writing poems that sit at the intersection of three cultures: Filipino, Indian, and American. She received her BA in English and MFA in poetry and creative nonfiction from Ohio State University in Columbus.

...She teaches creative writing and environmental literature at State University of New York–Fredonia, where she was named the SUNY–Fredonia William T. Hagan Young Scholar.

And now to one of her poems. I first read this poem in 2007 or 2008 and was very amused because my friend and I, as 9-11 year olds, used to delight in spelling out and saying the word - pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis - no fear of long words for us! But I was also mildly amused by the fact that the poem is about a fear of long almost unpronounceable words, kinda like the poet's last name! ;-)

The fear of long words
by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
On the first day of classes, I secretly beg
my students Don’t be afraid of me. I know
my last name on your semester schedule
is chopped off or probably misspelled—
or both. I can’t help it. I know the panic
of too many consonants rubbed up
against each other, no room for vowels

to fan some air into the room of a box
marked Instructor. You want something
to startle you? Try tapping the ball
of roots of a potted tomato plant

into your cupped hand one spring, only
to find a small black toad who kicks
and blinks his cold eye at you,

the sun, a gnat. Be afraid of the x-rays
for your teeth or lung. Pray for no
dark spots. You may have

coal lung. Be afraid of money spiders tiptoeing
across your face while you sleep on a sweet, fat couch.
But don’t be afraid of me, my last name, what language

I speak or what accent dulls itself on my molars.
I will tell jokes, help you see the gleam
of the beak of a mohawked cockatiel. I will
lecture on luminescent sweeps of ocean, full of tiny

dinoflagellates oozing green light when disturbed.
I promise dark gatherings of toadfish and comical shrimp
just when you think you are alone, hoping to stay somehow afloat.

You can read some more of her poems at her website here and an interview with her here.

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