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by Aimee Nezhukumatathil


by Aimee Nezhukumatathil


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"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

“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

With inquisitive flair, Aimee Nezhukumatathil creates a thorough registry of the earth’s wonderful and terrible magic. In her fourth collection of poetry, she studies forms of love as diverse and abundant as the ocean itself. She brings to life a father penguin, a C-section scar, and the Niagara Falls with a powerful force of reverence for life and living things. With an encyclopedic range of subjects and unmatched sincerity, Oceanic speaks to each reader as a cooperative part of the earth, an extraordinary neighborhood to which we all belong.

From “Starfish and Coffee”:

And that’s how you feel after tumbling like sea stars on the ocean floor over each other.
A night where it doesn’t matter which are arms or which are legs or what radiates and how—
only your centers stuck together.

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of four collections of poetry. Recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and the prestigious Eric Hoffer Grand Prize, Nezhukumatathil teaches creative writing and environmental literature in the MFA program at the University of Mississippi.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781556595264
Publisher: Copper Canyon Press
Publication date: 04/10/2018
Pages: 80
Sales rank: 303,087
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

Aimee Nezhukumatathil has been widely celebrated for her lush imagination and all-embracing style. Preoccupied with earth science since childhood, Nezhukumatathil crafts her research-based poetry using curious phenomena of the natural world; realizing a vision of strangeness and beauty. Her full-length debut, Miracle Fruit: Poems, won the Tupelo press prize in 2003, followed by her Balcones prize-winning At the Drive-In Volcano. Her third collection, Lucky Fish, was the winner of a gold medal from the Independent Publisher Book Awards and the prestigious Eric Hoffer Grand Prize for Independent Books. Her many other honors include fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Today Nezhukumatathil serves as the poetry editor of Orion magazine. She teaches creative writing and environmental literature as a professor of English in the MFA program at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, where she lives with her husband and sons.

Read an Excerpt

after the painting with the same name by Salvador Dalí

In one second, three hundred and fifty slices of pizza
are eaten somewhere on this earth. A heart beats just once.
Once, I dreamed you were so near I could smell
your honeyed hair and the damp folds in your blue sleeve.
I woke up and watered my violets. And woke again.
And woke again and again till I could not remember
if the water bubbling out and over the small lips
of the pots was dream water or water real as a pin.
Or the plash of an elephant walking the sea on bony stilts
like in this Dalí painting. Here is the mouth of a fish
wide with wonder at the twin tigers leaping out
from it—roaring with ocean salt till they’ve soared above
a floating pomegranate, a heart full of seed. In twenty-four
microseconds, a stick of dynamite will explode after
its fuse burned down. Houseflies flick their wings once
every three milliseconds. Even that fly is long gone
to the other side of the yard in the time it took to write flick.
Giant tortoises and compact discs last one hundred years.
In one million years, Los Angeles will move forty kilometers
north because of plate tectonics. A spaceship zooming along
at the speed of light would not yet reach the halfway point
to the Andromeda galaxy. One billion years: one ocean born.
The time it takes for the last waxy smudge of me to stop loving
you. Only at the bottom do you find anything about a bee.

(a found poem)

Too bad it was man-made.
As a stand alone attraction I guess it’s passable
but compared to the McDonald’s at Celebration Mall
it’s just meh.

Not for Indians. Very tacky.

There was no cloakroom at the South Gate!

The garden is also very basic. Every thing is basic.

We were ripped off by asking local shopkeepers to hold our bags for us. You will
be swarmed, swarmed by street vendors and children swarmed by camels and
parking lot goons and children and cheat cameramen and stalker tourist guides
and camel children and footwear thieves, so: MIND YOUR BELONGINGS!

It’s just an old love story.

But is it love or hate?

I was told to get out with my selfie stick!

Don’t even think about seeing it under a full moon.

This tomb has no rides.


I have faith in the single glossy capsule of a butterfly egg.
I have faith in the way a wasp nest is never quiet

and never wants to be. I have faith that the pile of forty
painted turtles balanced on top of each other will not fall

as the whole messy mass makes a scrabble-run
for the creek and away from a fox’s muddy paws.

I have been thinking of you on these moonless nights—
nights so full of blue fur and needle-whiskers, I don’t dare

linger outside for long. I wonder if scientists could classify us
a binary star—something like Albireo, sixteen-hundred

light years away. I love that this star is actually two—one blue
one gold, circling each other, never touching—a single star

soldered and edged in two colors if you see it on a clear night
in July. And if this evening, wherever you are,

brings you face to face with a raccoon or possum—
be careful of the teeth and all that wet bite.

During the darkest part of the night, teeth grow longer
in their mouths. And if the oleander spins you still

another way—take a turn and follow it. It will help you avoid
the spun-light sky, what singularity we might’ve become.


I believe in the tears of an elephant.
How they stamp the ground
and forget they are in musth—
panting—and cinnamon shrubs
or piles of sugarcane can’t tempt
them to stop their cycle of grief.
I believe in the broken heart
of an elephant. When a companion
dies, I believe in the rocking back
and forth, the dry pebbly tongue.
I believe in wanting to wear only
dust, hear only dust, taste only dust.
I believe in wanting to touch nothing
and wanting nothing to touch you.


I believe in the tail wag of a dog.
The toothy grin of an apple-fed horse,
the shine from the wet in the eyes
wild with joy. I like the movements
in a chimp’s fine fur as he swings
from branch to rubber tire and thumps
his companion on the head with a bright-red ball.
I believe in the single sugar cube sparkling
on a small ceramic dish as we sit at a café—
me sipping a soda with a paper straw,
you leaning in close to point to something
that neither of us have ever tried—but we will today.
The waiter will say Good, good choice, my favorite,
as he gathers up the vinyl menus and leaves us.


Some girls on the other side of this planet

will never know the loveliness

of walking in a crepe silk sari. Instead

they will spend their days on their backs

for a parade of men who could be their uncles

in another life. These girls memorize

each slight wobble of fan blade as it cuts

through the stale tea air and auto-rickshaw

exhaust thick as egg curry.

Men shove greasy rupees at the door

for one hour in a room

with a twelve-year-old. One hour— One hour—

One hour. And if she cries afterward

her older sister will cover it up. Will rim

the waterline of her eyes with kohl pencil

until it looks like two popinjay moths

have stopped to rest on her exquisite face.

Table of Contents

Self-Portrait as Scallop 3

When I Am Six 4

On Listening to Your Teacher Take Attendance 5

The Origin of Feathers on My Windshield 6

Sea Church 7

Mr. Cass and the Crustaceans 8

Penguin Valentine 10

From The Rambutan Notebooks 12

Two Moths 13

In Praise of My Manicure 14

End-of-Summer Haibun 15

When Lucille Bogan Sings "Shave 'Em Dry" 16

The Two Times I Loved You the Most on a Farm 17

Aubade with Cutlery and Crickets 18

When You Select the Daughter Card 19

At the Pumpkin Festival My Lips Burn Bright 20

Self-Portrait as Niagara Falls in Winter 21

Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate One Second before Waking Up 22

The Falling: Four Who Have Intentionally Plunged Over Niagara Falls with the Hope of Surviving 23

Forsythe Avenue Haibun 27

Meals of Grief & Happiness 28

Invitation 29

Inside the Cloud Forest Dome 30

I Could Be a Whale Shark 31

Love in the Time of Swine Flue 33

Self-Portrait as C-Section Scar 34

The Cockroach Responds 35

Andromache Begs Hector to Reconsider 36

When I'm Away from You, I Feel like the Second-Place Winner in a Bee-Wearing Contest 37

In the Museum of Glass Flowers 38

Dangerous 39

Travel Mommy Ghazal 40

Flowers at the Taj Mahal 41

While Riding an Elephant, I Think of Unicorns 42

Self-Portrait as an Egg-Tempera Illuminated Manuscript from 1352 44

Letter to the Northern Lights 45

Perch Bones and Apple Aubade 46

This Sugar 47

Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth 48

Psyche & Cupid: A Reimagining 49

Venus Instructing Cupid to Torment Psyche 51

Psyche Considers Her Last Letter from Cupid 52

Upon Hearing the News You Buried Our Dog 53

The Body 54

The Pepper Kingdom 55

One-Star Reviews of the Taj Mahal 56

First Time on the Funicular 57

One-Star Reviews of the Great Wall of China 59

The Pepper King Returns 60

Starfish and Coffee 61

Naming the Heartbeats 63

Chess 64

My South 65

Bengal Tiger 67

Acknowledgments 69

About the Author 73

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