Sunday, February 3, 2008

Our Second Poem: My Name by Aimee Nezhukumatathil


Welcome to February here at poem! Our poem for the month is My Name by Aimee Nehukumatathil. It's from Miracle Fruit, her first book of poetry. * (In case anyone is worried, we actually have Aimee's permission (!) to use this poem! How cool is that?)

As a reminder, this week, all you need to do is read the poem and enjoy a lively discussion of it! Think about it, sit with it, say it aloud, read it to family and friends...then post your thoughts, observations, questions and impressions here in the comments section.

Next week, we will post a prompt related to the poem. The third week of the month you can post your links to your own "name poems," and after that...surprise, surprise, surprise!

Enjoy!

My Name

At four, I was ready: fat pencil and paper, lined
the way I like it best--two strong sky blue lines
with a dotted line in between the two, a soft ceiling
for the tops of lower case letters to brush up against.

In New Guinea, to identify a person's family, you ask,
What is the name of your canoe? My seventh grade
social studies teacher made up a dance to help him
remember how to pronounce my name--he'd break it

into sharp syllables, shake his corduroyed hips
at roll call, his bulge of keys rattling in time.
I don't remember who first shortened it to Nez,
but I loved the zip of it, the sport and short of it,

until the day I learned Nez means nose in French.
Translation: beloved nose. My father tells me part
of our name comes from a flower from the South Indian
coast. I wonder what it smells like, what fragrance

I always have dabbed at my neck. Scientists say some flowers
don't have a scent, but they do--even if it's hints of sweat
from blooms too long without drink or the promise
of honey from the scratchings of a thin bee leg, feathered

with loosestrife and sage. I wonder if I've ever smelled
our flower, if the smell ever wafted clear across the ocean.
I would swim out to meet it, brush the salt and bits
of pink shell away, apologize for the messiness of my hair.

5 comments:

polkadotwitch said...

what brings me into this poem is how who we are bounces off the people around us and comes back to us in a different form, how there can be so much distance (an ocean) between who we are and where we are, between the different pieces of ourselves, how we dream about what is our essence.

from a "mechanics" point of view, i love how things in this poem move, travel, journey.

Linda Jacobs said...

First of all, her book will be my next purchase! I like her voice and images.

Who can't relate to those fat lines when we first learned how to write our names? I love her description of this!

And names, our names, are so important! A couple weeks ago, my granddaughter, Kylie, who just turned 2 in December, was visiting along with my son's two dogs, Bailey and Kaylee. Kylie and I have nicknames for them, Bails and Kaykays. I was in the kitchen and Kylie ran into the room saying, "Hi, Grandma!" and I said "Hi, Kykys" back to her. She pulled up short, wrinkled her face, and said, "I am Kylie!" It tickled me that she has such a sense of self!

That's what I got out of this poem: pride in ourselves and our names. It doesn't matter what we look like, if our hair is a mess, our names are our names and we are all worthy.

jillypoet said...

What drew me to this poem initially was its simplicity. Such a simple thing--a name. Such a simple question--what's your name? But this is anything but a simple poem. Every word is meant to be there, every image is concrete, almost universal. It is a poem we can all relate to.

Everytime I read this there is a little voice (my muse, maybe) chiming in, oh yes, there's an idea for a poem. Oh, yes, that's good. I like poems that make me think in terms of what I might write some day, poems that inspire me.

Yes! The "fat pencil and paper" with "two strong sky blue lines" are such great, concrete images.

I also like the "trivia" about names in New Guinea, nez means nose in french, the flower from the South Indian coast. We all search, in some degree, for meaning in our names, in ourselves. Where do we come from, what does our name mean, and in the searching, what do we mean.

This poem has so many layers. What keeps bringing me back and back to it is how it reads so simply, so effortlessly. It opens, not to use a cliche, like a flower...

Anonymous said...

From Therese Broderick--One of the conference programs I attended last week was a panel discussion about a newly published book of essays, each one of which discusses just one word. This poem, too, discusses just one word, unfolding it layer by layer, unpacking its etymology, riffing on its denotations and connotations. But in this case, the word is a special kind of word: a proper name. And isn't all poetry about naming? In this poem, the images introduced one by one (seemingly in loose association) throughout the poem eventually coalesce tightly at the end of the poem: in the last image, the swimmer has pink shells in her hair, and her hair brushes between the blue ocean and the blue sky; similarly, the poem begins with her written name brushing against the dotted lines (which I remember as being pink) in between the two blue lines. In the last image, she is traveling the water (as in a canoe), breathing and smelling with her nose (as in Nez). In effect, in the last image, she has become her name. She embodies the word. In the beginning was the word, which moved upon the waters. (I'm not being evangelical here, just poetic.)

jillypoet said...

Such a great interpretation, Therese! With each person's interpretation of a poem, I learn so much more about the piece, and see so much more myself.

Once, again, thank you everyone, for participating in this project with us.