Self-Portrait as C-Section Scar
When I’m happy I can smile twice at the same time.
So thin—a marker-tip line with a waxy shine—
a vein of a maple leaf, a dog’s upper lip, arm of anemone.
Of all the magical plants and animals in the sea,
the hagfish is the most unpopular, the most horrifying—
the one that makes children burst into tears. And if that
isn’t enough, she is the only fish without vertebrae,
so she can literally tie herself into a knot to bulge out
and pop the small mouths of fish that dare try to eat her.
Don’t you admire her clever slip and wriggle? Don’t
you think her nerves are left a little more electric
after she is caught? Sometimes if you put an ear
to the dark slash between my hip bones, you can hear
a soft hum. Pretend it’s a skit of bees in late spring.
Aimee Nezhukumatathil, “Self-Portrait as C-Section Scar” from Oceanic. Copyright © 2018 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc. on behalf of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.
Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of Lucky Fish, winner of the Independent Publisher Book Awards gold medal in poetry, At the Drive-In Volcano, winner of the Tupelo Press Judge’s Prize and ForeWord Magazine’s Poetry Book of the Year. With Ross Gay, she coauthored Lace & Pyrite: Letters from Two Gardens. Her awards include a Pushcart Prize and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She is poetry editor of Orion magazine and has served as faculty for the Kundiman Retreat for Asian American writers. She is a professor of English and creative writing in the MFA program at the University of Mississippi.
In her fourth collection, Aimee Nezhukumatathil hums a bright blue note—a sensuous love song to the Earth and its inhabitants. Oceanic is both a title and an ethos of radical inclusion, inviting in the grief of an elephant, the icy eyes of a scallop, “the ribs / of a silver silo,” and the bright flash of painted fingernails. With unmatched sincerity, Oceanic speaks to each reader as a cooperative part of the natural world—the extraordinary neighborhood to which we all belong. This is a poet ecstatically, emphatically, naming what it means to love a world in peril.
“Nezhukumatathil’s poems contain elegant twists of a very sharp knife. She writes about the natural world and how we live in it, filling each poem, each page with a true sense of wonder.”
— Roxane Gay
“What really stitches Oceanic together is Nezhukumatathil’s musical voice. These poems feel crystal clear in their logic and construction, walking carefully from the metaphoric and imagistic to something more transcendent and strange, reminding us that we are linked to the natural world in deep and surprising ways”
— August Smith, Bookpage
“Cultural strands are woven into the DNA of her strange, lush… poems. Aphorisms… from another dimension.”
— The New York Times
“With unparalleled ease, she’s able to weave each intriguing detail into a nuanced, thought-provoking poem that also reads like a startling modern-day fable.”
— The Poetry Foundation
“How wonderful to watch a writer who was already among the best young poets get even better!”
— Terrance Hayes
“Reading Nezhukumatathil’s poems is a practice in keenly observing life’s details. The poet writes with a romantic sensibility about a world saturated with a deep sense of loss. Recommended for all poetry readers, especially those interested in ecopoetry.”
— Library Journal
“Sensual and vivid, [Nezhukumatathil’s] poems invite us deep into the water, where ‘colors humans have/ not yet named glow in caves made from black coral and clamshell.’ Her images are lush with eroticism, always close to the body and its experience of wonder. She blurs the line between human and animal, casting herself (and her beloved) variously as a scallop, a whale shark, a penguin, a starfish. Such marvelous acts of transformation reshape us as we read.”
— San Francisco Chronicle