—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
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.