In Praise of My Manicure

Because I was taught all my life to blend in, I want

my fingernails to blend out: like preschoolers


who stomp their rain boots in a parking lot, like coins

who wink at you from the scatter-bottom of a fountain,


like red starfish who wiggle a finger dance at you,

like green-faced Kathakali dancers who shape


their hands into a bit of hello with an anjali—I tell you,

from now on I and my children and their children


will hold four fingers up—a pallavam, a fresh sprout

with no more shame, no more shrink, and if the bright


colors and glittered stars of my fingertips scare you,

I will shape my fingers into sarpasirassu—my favorite,


a snake—sliding down my wrist and into each finger:

just look at these colors so marvelous so fabulous.


See the two snakes where my brown arms once were.

See that movement near my elbow, now at my wrist?


A snake heart can slide up and down the length of its body

when it needs to. You’ll never be able to catch my pulse, my shine.


Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of four books of poetry, most recently, Oceanic (Copper Canyon Press, 2018). She was recently named a 2020 Guggenheim Fellow. Her writing appears in Poetry, The New York Times Magazine, ESPN, and Tin House. Her book of illustrated nature essays is forthcoming with Milkweed Editions. She serves as poetry faculty for the Writing Workshops in Greece and is professor of English and creative writing in the University of Mississippi’s MFA program.