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 a professor of English in the University of Mississippi’s MFA program. Her newest collection of poems is Oceanic, winner of the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for poetry (Copper Canyon Press, 2018). With Ross Gay, she co-wrote the chapbook, Lace & Pyrite, a collaboration of nature poems. She is also the author of a forthcoming book of illustrated nature essays, World of Wonders, from Milkweed Editions in 2020. She is the poetry editor of Orion and her poems have appeared in the Best American Poetry 2015 & 2018 series, American Poetry Review, New England Review, Poetry, Ploughshares, and Tin House. Her honors include a 2020 Guggenheim fellowship, a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Pushcart Prize.