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On Listening to Your Teacher Take Attendance

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, fraying apron. And when
everyone turns around to check out

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

of one big scallop with its dozens of icy blues
and you will remember the 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 is the author of four books of poetry, most recently Oceanic (Copper Canyon Press, 2018). Her recent poems have appeared in Poetry, Tin House, and The American Poetry Review. She lives in Oxford, Mississippi, and is professor of English in the MFA program at The University of Mississippi. (3/2018)


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