The Sunday Poem : Aimee Nezhukumatathil






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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“Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia” appears in At the Drive-In Volcano by Aimee Nezhukumatathil published by Tupelo Press. Copyright © 2007 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Used by permission of the author. All rights reserved.

By | 2016-11-11T21:52:56+00:00 03.31.12|The Sunday Poem, Words|2 Comments

About the Author:

I’ve spent almost 20 years helping thousands of successful artists of all disciplines and working to make the arts more accessible. (One friend likes to call me “the arts enabler.”) From 1999-2012 I worked at The MacDowell Colony, the nation’s oldest artist colony, but I've also done time at an arts magazine, a library, an art museum, and a raptor rehabilitation center. In May of 2012 I left MacDowell to pursue writing, speaking, curating, and creative projects full-time. In 2015 I was named a “Top 100 Artist, Innovator, Creative” by Origin magazine. I've appeared as an arts and culture commentator on New Hampshire Public Radio, and in 2017 I was the recipient of the Wampler Art Professorship at James Madison University. I am the founder of the Gwarlingo Salon series, which connects artists like DJ Spooky with rural audiences in the Monadnock region. In 2017 my collaborator Corwin Levi and I will publish our first book, Mirror Mirrored, which combines Grimms’ fairy tales with vintage illustration remixes and the work of contemporary artists like Kiki Smith, Carrie Mae Weems, and Amy Cutler. I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, but have called New Hampshire home since 1999. My studio is located in the historic, mill village of Harrisville. I miss fried okra, the early southern spring, and restaurants that stay open past 9:00 p.m., but rural life agrees with me. In New Hampshire I can see the stars, go kayaking or snowshoeing, watch bald eagles fish in the lake, and focus on my creative work in silence. I no longer have to worry about traffic jams; deer, wild turkeys, and frost heaves are the primary road hazards here. Although I live in the country, I’m fortunate enough to be part of a vibrant arts community that extends beyond this small New England village. The quiet days are punctuated by regular travel and frequent visits to museums, theaters, readings, arts events, lectures, and open studios around the country. (You can read my full CV here.) Thanks for visiting Gwarlingo. I hope you'll be in touch.


  1. Kathryn Stripling Byer April 1, 2012 at 8:15 pm

    I wasn’t familiar with this young poet till my friend Evie Shockley posted this on facebook. I liked the poem so much I shared it, and then another friend posted yet another of Aimee’s poem about beating up poor Jennifer Lee. Wonderful. Thank you so much for posting this and sending it out into the world. Glad to know that you are a Stanley Brothers fan! Last summer I sang Rank Strangers with a TN bluegrass group called Tazewell Pike. One of the highlights of my poet’s life!

    • Michelle Aldredge April 1, 2012 at 8:46 pm

      Hi Kathryn. I’m jealous that you had a chance to sing in a bluegrass band. What fun! The Stanley Brothers always remind me of home. I see that we’re fellow Georgians and that you live in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Do you know the artist colony the Hambidge Center in Rabun Gap, Georgia? I had two wonderful residencies there. Thanks for visiting Gwarlingo and for being in touch. I’m glad you discovered Aimee Nez’s work. She’s a talented poet. I highly recommend her books, including her latest, Lucky Fish.

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