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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, December 17, 2018.
About this Poem 

“I find using the alphabet as a compass in the map of the abecedarian form opens up the music, metaphor, and imagery of a poem, especially when dealing with the tyranny of the alphabet to corral you. But as with most forms, I find it to be a welcome guide and reminder: rather than feeling reined in, I get unspooled. When I read abecedarians, I love wondering, what goes on between each letter that is unsaid?”
—Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Hummingbird Abecedarian

Arriving with throats like nipped roses, like a tiny
bloom fastened to each neck, nothing else
cuts the air quite like this thrum to make the small
dog at my feet whine and yelp. So we wait—no
excitement pinned to the sky so needled and our days open
full of rain for weeks. Nothing yet from the ground speaks
green except weeds. But soon you see a familiar shadow
hovering where the glass feeders you brought
inside used to hang because the ice might shatter the pollen
junk and leaf bits collected after this windiest, wildest of winters.
Kin across the ocean surely felt this little jump of blood, this
little heartbeat, perhaps brushed across my grandmother’s
mostly grey braid snaked down her brown
neck and back across the Indian and the widest part of the Pacific 
ocean, across the Mississippi, and back underneath my
patio. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve been silent in my lungs,
quiet as a salamander. Those times I wanted to decipher the mutter
rolled off a stranger’s full and beautiful lips. I only knew they
spoke in Malayalam—my father’s language—and how
terrific it’d sound if I could make my own slow mouth
ululate like that in utter sorrow or joy. I’m certain I’d be 
voracious with each light and peppered syllable 
winged back to me in the form of this sort of faith, a gift like
xenia offered to me. And now I must give it back to this tiny bird, its
yield far greener and greater than I could ever repay—a light like
zirconia—hoping for something so simple and sweet to sip.

Copyright © 2018 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 17, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 17, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of four poetry collections: Oceanic (Copper Canyon Press, 2018), Lucky Fish (Tupelo Press, 2011), winner of the 2011 Eric Hoffer Grand Prize; At the Drive-In Volcano (Tupelo Press, 2007), winner of the Balcones Poetry Prize; and Miracle Fruit (Tupelo Press, 2003), winner of the Global Filipino Award and the Tupelo Press Prize.

by this poet

poem

I have faith in the single glossy capsule of a butterfly egg.
I have faith in the way a wasp nest is never quiet

and never wants to be. I have faith that the pile of forty
painted turtles balanced on top of each other will not fall

as the whole messy mass makes a scrabble-run

poem

Exactly four different men have tried
to teach me how to play. I could never
tell the difference between a rook
or bishop, but I knew the horse meant

knight. And that made sense to me,
because a horse is night: soot-hoof
and nostril, dark as a sabled evening

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poem

 

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