National Poetry Month Day 26: Aimee Nezhukumatathil







Every August, you buy a three-pack of glue sticks for fifty cents because you never know what needs to stick with you. Like when you caught your babysitter topless and making out with the pool guy in the garage, and she threatened to force you to eat watermelon rinds if you told your mom. And because most days after that, she still disappeared for hours with the pool guy and shrieked, Don’t you dare open that garage door again unless you or your younger sister are bleeding!

You tell anyway.

You can hear her crying in the kitchen as your mother fires her that very afternoon. You’re listening from the spare bedroom, rummaging through the babysitter’s purse for gum or to nick a shiny quarter from her beaded coin purse that spells out ‘Vegas.’

There is none to be found—gum nor shiny coin—but you find a smooth and cool click-y pen—the kind (rare at the time) with four colors of ink. Blue: you watch the woman wipe tears away with her sleeve. Black: this woman who once washed and combed your dark hair till it shone and braided it tight, tying it off with satin ribbons. Green: this woman who is not your mother, but fed you neat and easy dinners anyway and made sure you ate all your vegetables when your parents had to stay late at the hospital. Red: your skin is too dark to hardly ever show a true blush—but now you watch your babysitter’s cheeks flush with blood as she bursts into the room, grabs her purse from your lap, and speeds out of the driveway and back to her home.

When it’s quiet again and your mom plates up a pizza she just ordered for you and your sister, you sit at the dining room table and click that pen under the table. Click it again. Click it again. Click-click. Click-click. What’s that, your mother asks. Is that a cricket?


Photograph of Aimee Nezhukumatathil by Caroline Beffa.

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 Magazine, 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. More from this author →