Nursery

In high school, boys hardly ever noticed
me, and when they finally did, I could not
imagine any of them a father. One called
me the n-word when I was seven years old.

I needed a restraining order from another.
It still seems a surprise I ever had an occasion
to set up a nursery of my own with a grown
man. When I found out a boy kicked

inside me—a bright panic perfumed me
and to be honest—never left. I know almost
nothing of boys but their father taught me
a boy can grow to be a gentle man who was

also a gentle boy. If you look around
there is plenty of gentle to celebrate: a male
Darwin frog keeps a nursery in his own mouth—
babies leap from his vocal sac—a reverse

gobble-drool and such a trust he won’t fever
for a bite (and he never does!) when they jump
to a bog breakfast of wings. The male seahorse
carries a dark swell in his brood pouch until

he throws a parade ending with a confetti
of gallops. Scientists still don’t know where
whale sharks give birth. I wish we’d keep some
secrets underwater. I don’t want us to ever find

a nursery of those gentle giants. Let them swim
out and out and grow into schoolbus-sized fish.
Praise some still-unsolved equations, and maps
of unspooled, unfurled tentacles solving

for X—where X means you fall in love just when
you think you won’t—and Y means
a mystery of shrimp scuttling for cover when
you dove deeper than you ever thought you could.

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of the New York Times best-selling illustrated collection of nature essays and Kirkus Prize finalist, WORLD OF WONDERS: IN PRAISE OF FIREFLIES, WHALE SHARKS, & OTHER ASTONISHMENTS (2020, Milkweed Editions), which was chosen as Barnes and Noble’s Book of the Year. She has four previous poetry collections: OCEANIC (Copper Canyon Press, 2018), LUCKY FISH (2011), AT THE DRIVE-IN VOLCANO (2007), and MIRACLE FRUIT (2003), the last three from Tupelo Press. Her most recent chapbook is LACE & PYRITE, a collaboration of epistolary garden poems with the poet Ross Gay. Her writing appears twice in the Best American Poetry Series, The New York Times Magazine, ESPNPloughshares, American Poetry Review, and Tin House. Honors include a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Pushcart Prize, a Mississippi Arts Council grant, and being named a Guggenheim Fellow in poetry. In 2021, she became the first-ever poetry editor for SIERRA magazine, the story-telling arm of The Sierra Club. She is professor of English and Creative Writing in the University of Mississippi’s MFA program.