Book Review 2011-004
Lucky Fish by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
2011 from Tupelo Press, 80 pages
(This copy purchased from the Publisher)
This is the second collection from Aimee Nezukumatathil that I've read (the other being Miracle Fruit) and based on my enjoyment, I'm sure I'll continue to look for her work in the future.
Lucky Fish is broken up into three sections, and for the first time in a few poetry collection readings, I can actually say I see some specific themes developing in each section. The first section, "A Globe is Just an Asterisk," has Nezukumatathil showing some of the wonderment at the universe we all reside in that I seem to recall from my reading of Miracle Fruit a few years back.
THE SECRET OF SOIL
The Secret of smoke is that it will fill
any space with walls, no matter
how delicate: lung, cell, soapy bubble
blown from a bright red ring.
The secret of soil is that it is alive--
a step in the forest means
you are carried on the back
of a thousand bugs. The secret
Throughout this section Nezhukumatathil writes of the origin of paper, of red dye, of various state soil types, of the Phillipines and India, and the globe itself. There's a youthful inquisitive nature to these poems, and they are very clear, very accessible, and Nezhukumatathil's interest, genuine as it seems, lends itself to the reader.
The second section, "Sweet Tooth," has more of a personal ring to it, poems of reflection from the author.
When my father wanted to point out galaxies
or Andromeda or the Seven Sisters, I'd complain
of the buzz of mosquitoes, or of the yawning
moon-quiet in that slow, summer air. All I wanted
was to go inside into our cooled house and watch TV
or paint my nails. What does a fifteen-year-old girl
know of patience? What did I know of the steady turn
of whole moon valleys cresting into focus?
This poem continues on up through the current day with the narrator's realization that it won't always be the case, that at some point her father won't be asking her to share in this experience. There are poems about her parents, about her experience as the high school mascot, about meeting her future husband and a Thanksgiving meal where he's just about all she remembers.
The third section, "Lucky Penny," seems to be heavily affected by the fact that Nezhukumatathil has become a parent of two sons not so long ago. The third poem in this section, "Birth Geographic," is a bit of a tour de force, covering five pages through an eighteen section romp that includes varying styles from section to section.
Suppose you had a ball at birth. A literal ball--one you could hold in your
arms, bigger than a beach ball: I brought my very own to the hospital. Mine
was rubber, a good weight, blue. A whole planet beneath my legs. Nowhere in
that world was it cloudy. In between contractions, I rocked and rocked on the
Earth and it was good.
4. [[In the Philippines]]
It is said that if a woman has a lot of blemishes on her face, or if the face
changes shape, the baby will be a boy.
It is said if the mother glows and radiates beauty, the baby will be a girl.
It is said if a mother is craving sweets and other carbohydrates, the baby will
be a girl. It is said if a mother is craving oily or fried foods, the baby
will be a boy.
I only craved sleep, so I thought
for sure I would give birth to a pillow.
It is said the mother cannot eat anything slimy or she will miscarry.
It is said the mother should eat fish (especially bangus) to make her child
It is said the mother should not eat mango to avoid having a hairy baby.
Oh dear heart--
I fear we may have a very smart and terrifyingly furry child.
Lucky Fish is a very strong collection of poems, and very well put together. There's a symmetry, I think, to the sections with Nezhukumatathil's wonderment of the world, even down to such tiny levels as thorough examinations of something like red dye, one one side of her personal poems, and then the motherhood inspired poems on the other side of her more personal poems.