Suppose You Were a Moray Eel

when ancient Romans kept glass aquariums
filled to bubbling with your brothers
and old Licinius Muraena himself loved
to throw slaves in the water, stripping men

to bits. You cannot help it — it’s in your blood.
Witches wear dresses made of your skin,
sleek and gleaming. Don’t you see how they preen
whenever they pass a mirror? In the Ozark mountains,

I met a man who swears cooked eels turn raw
if they are left uneaten and so everyone —
even children — eat them quickly. They don’t want
to feel the slip and bite under their bed sheets

later that night. You move me. You move me anguillform
and backwards, zipping through the sea with only
a quick-stop for shrimp and other creepy crawlies.
Your acorn heart sees the future — does it hold

a Valentine, Be Mine! or a glassy, spectacular car crash?
I am mostly blind, like you, but let us wait here
in this coral cave and count the number of smelt
that swim by. Let them go, all of them.

Wait instead for what your thin veins forecast,
what they decide to pulse for and where.

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.