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By Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Breathe deep even if it means you wrinkle
your nose from the fake-lemon antiseptic


of the mopped floors and wiped-down
doorknobs. The freshly soaped necks


and armpits. Your teacher means well,
even if he butchers your name like


he has a bloody sausage casing stuck
between his teeth, handprints


on his white, sloppy apron. And when
everyone turns around to check out


your face, no need to flush red and warm.
Just picture all the eyes as if your classroom


is one big scallop with its dozens of icy blues
and you will remember that winter your family

took you to the China Sea and you sank

your face in it to gaze at baby clams and sea stars

the size of your outstretched hand. And when

all those necks start to crane, try not to forget

someone once lathered their bodies, once patted them

dry with a fluffy towel after a bath, set out their clothes

for the first day of school. Think of their pencil cases

from third grade, full of sharp pencils, a pink pearl eraser.

Think of their handheld pencil sharpener and its tiny blade.  

Aimee Nezhukumatathil, "On Listening to Your Teacher Take Attendance" from Oceanic.  Copyright © 2018 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil.  Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press,

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Poet Bio

Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Aimee Nezhukumatathil was born in Chicago to a Filipina mother and South Indian father. She earned her BA and MFA from The Ohio State University and was a Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellow at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She is poetry editor of Orion magazine and is currently professor of English in the MFA program at the University of Mississippi. She lives with her husband and sons in Oxford, Mississippi. See More By This Poet

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