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Naming the Heartbeats by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

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MARGINALIA • SKIP TO THE POEM

1.
The work of praising the world is endless. As a poet is it my duty to pay attention and notice, I know. It is the work of persistence. For example: the indent of my thigh has your name on it. For example: the way chocolate melts on the tongue I call sweet, I call exquisite. For example: when I wake up to the news that my friend has recovered, lungs clear, I say praise, praise.

2.
Little flower, I’ve been called. With as much tenderness as one could muster over the distance of oceans and stars. I embrace this close to my chest, even if my fingers touch nothing but my own skin when I close my fist.

3.
Outside my window ambulance after ambulance have passed in the past hour. I counted five. How do I celebrate being alive? What is the name for when I dig my feet deeper into my slippers, wanting to feel rooted, worried I’d blow away with every siren? To live is an ache we carry and yet we keep trying.

Naming the Heartbeats
Aimee Nezhukumatathil

I’ve become the person who says Darling, who says Sugarpie,
Honeybunch, Snugglebear—and that’s just for my children.
What I call my husband is unprintable. You’re welcome. I am
his sweetheart, and finally, finally—I answer to his call and his
alone. Animals are named for people, places, or perhaps a little
Latin. Plants invite names for colors or plant-parts. When you
get a group of heartbeats together you get names that call out
into the evening’s first radiance of planets: a quiver of cobras,
a maelstrom of salamanders, an audience of squid, or an ostentation
of peacocks. But what is it called when creatures on this earth curl
and sleep, when shadows of moons we don’t yet know brush across
our faces? And what is the name for the movement we make when
we wake, swiping hand or claw or wing across our face, like trying
to remember a path or a river we’ve only visited in our dreams?

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This poem appeared in Oceanic by Aimee Nezhukumatathil, published by Copper Canyon Press, 2018. Shared here with profound gratitude.

Read more works by Aimee Nezhukumatathil • Find books by this poet • Or view my library 

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