Lucky Fish by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is a poet who delights readers with her keen view of the world, which is often influenced by her insatiable wonder and her travels; this year, she gives us the gift of a beautiful third book, Lucky Fish. The book is her invitation for readers to join her in a sensual experience of the world and all its beings, human and creaturely. Since her first book, Miracle Fruit, (published in 2003), she has continued to bring joy through her poems in a poetic landscape that is often rife with cynicism.


Still, in Lucky Fish, Nezhukumatathil does more than bring joy and entice us into a journey through India, The Philippines, motherhood, and childhood. In these poems, she often surrenders to the beings around her. For example, in “Notes for the Heartbeat at My Feet,” she addresses her dachshund: “Old girl: you are the solid line / on a highway—you’ve kept me from swerving / into a forest with a broken headlight, a mouthful of twig.” Here, the sweetness of addressing a pet like an old friend is juxtaposed with a sense of near breakdown. The speaker is hopeful, but faltering, and “the solid line”—the dog—grounds her, preventing disaster. In this, as in many of the poems in Lucky Fish, we see that sometimes what saves us isn’t ourselves, but rather the world outside us. Nezhukumatathil also showcases her strength for figurative language—of the dachshund, she says, “you are a sneeze / at the crook of my elbow—the lick of salt / behind my knees.”


In some poems, she speaks in the language of folk tales, and her storytelling comes alive along with her muscle for sensory detail such as in “The Feathered Cape of Kechi.” The reader is invited into the fabled world of Kechi, a father who demands that his son go out to gather replacement feathers for their pet parrot who has lost his own: “each spot glowed a corolla of grease and candlewood.” We are surprised when Kechi’s son becomes a parrot: [he] “chewed and chewed. The feathers grew. Light water on the walls of an already warm glass.” The tone of these lines is that of a subtle storyteller who we want to believe in spite of the fantastic nature of the narrative. Her skill in depicting exact detail helps readers dive into her imagined world without qualms; delicate lyrical lines such as “[l]ight water on the walls of an already warm glass” and the repetition in “[t]here is the sink and the soap but nothing to scrub… / [t]here is the sink, the violet eye, the squawk, the fright” helps readers navigate the subtle tonal register of the tale. We might forget ourselves in this poem; this is one of the great joys of reading Lucky Fish.


In fact, we should feel as lucky as a fish or a penny to have such an imaginative and linguistically gifted poet writing in our language; in our confusing contemporary world, her powers of observation and storytelling give us something to cling to. We would be wise to heed her as she follows Ovid’s advice from the epigraph: “Let your hook be always cast; in the pool where you least expect it, a fish.” Just as Ovid recommends, she allows the serendipity of life to become the jewels of her poems.


Lucky Fish, Tupelo Press, 2011. Reviewed by Gina Barnard.


More Aimee Nezhukumatathil:

Buy Lucky Fish from Tupelo Press

Visit Nezhukumatathil’s website

Listen to Nezhukumatathil at From the Fishouse

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