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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, www.coppercanyonpress.org.

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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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