The fear of long words


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.




About Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Aimee Nezhukumatathil was born in Chicago, Illinois, to a Filipina mother and a father from South India.

She is the author of three poetry collections: Lucky Fish (2011); At the Drive-In Volcano (2007), winner of the Balcones Prize; and Miracle Fruit (2003), winner of the Tupelo Press Prize, ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Award, the Global Filipino Award and a finalist for The Glasgow Prize and the Asian American Literary Award. Her first chapbook, Fishbone (2000), won the Snail’s Pace Press Prize.

Other awards include a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Pushcart Prize, the Angoff Award from The Literary Review, the Boatwright Prize from Shenandoah, and multiple fellowships to The MacDowell Colony.

Nezhukumatathil is associate professor of English at SUNY-Fredonia and teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Pacific University. She lives in Western New York with her husband and two young sons and is at work on a collection of nature essays and more poems.

To learn more about Aimee Nezhukumatathil and her work, please visit her website.



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