I call them unexpected because the poems move like a train in that they begin in one place and end up in another. Sometimes it can be frustrating because you are still at the beginning and want more. However, it makes you reread the poem to find out what you missed when traveling. Small Murders is my favorite; it begins with historical references to scents and then becomes personal with piercing emotions.
Some poems read well, though nothing may seem truly striking at the moment. The words are ordinary with no great symbolism or literary interplays. However, hours later, these poems are in my thoughts and I realize the powerful impression that they have left.
In Fishbone, she explores the immigrant mother-American daughter relationship. The poem begins:
At dinner, my mother says if one gets stuckAt first I thought "This is a story I know well and let's move on to the next poem." However, I found myself recalling the image of the young girl at a dinner table looking at a plate of fish with eyes and wishing for normal food. When I read it again, I saw the mother trying to uphold traditions and create new ones (via a collection of dimes for her daughter). While mothers do not say anything profound, they do leave their imprints on daughters. The poem closes not with stuck fish bones, but
in your throat, roll some rice into a ball
and swallow it whole...
...These are the words that stick inside me as I snap off the next head.
Fortunately, Nezhukumatathil does not dwell too much on the South Asian in America experience; she touches upon it lightly. She actually flips the perspective to the American Abroad and captures the sensuality and nuances of India and the Philippines from her travels.
The book has an initial stream of personal poems, but then other personae are introduced. There's Little Houses with Frida Kahlo, Marie Antoinette and Harriet Tubman, and there's Lewis and Clark Disagree. Another enjoyable persona is in The Bonsai Master's Daughter Breaks Her Silence. The poems are well-researched and she often plants a nugget of trivia into her work.
Fruit Cocktail Tree begins with the narrator reading the Michigan Bulb Company catalog of fruit trees. The poem moves from the description of the fruit to the pictures then to the model in the pictures. It ends with details of a picnic between the artist and his girlfriend. This is all within 28 lines.
Miracle Fruit is her debut book of poetry and has won the 2001 Tupelo Press First Book prize, and is available through online booksellers. And, like the actual African miracle fruit, everything becomes sweet after consuming.
More about Aimee Nezhukumatathil
[Poetry] [Reviews] [Bookshelf] [Sawnet]