"First Time Brushing Teeth Next to You" by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

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May 6, 2024 
 

First Time Brushing Teeth Next to You

Aimee Nezhukumatathil

When I say first time, that implies 
there will be a second, a fourth, a ninety-ninth. 
From far away our teeth must look like Tic Tacs, 
Chiclets, moons of a faraway planet. Nocturnal 
animals can smell better at night because scent 
lingers when the air is still, and so I smell the mint 
of our mouths but also the spill of peppers 
from the salsa dropped on your shirt. The greasy 
sidewalks we walked an hour earlier. Hotel soap 
freshly bubbled and wet in the dish. When I root through 
the thicket or the brush pile, my fur turns electric striped 
and tail-tumbled. I foam at the mouth. The mask 
on my face means bandit. Turns out I love the dark. 
My little paws want to grab everything and wash it. 

Copyright © 2024 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 6, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets. 

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“This nocturnal sonnet (this sonnet-ish nocturne?) emerged from my thinking about the dark, about nighttime as a period of so much hustle and bustle in the animal kingdom (of which we are also a member, no matter how some try to keep us separate). For me, a slight dilemma occurs because night ideally means rest, but it’s also when eighty percent of my writing gets done, when the house and my beloveds go to sleep. But this is nothing new. Ancient Greek poets used the night as a time of transformation too. A little bit of magic.”
—Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is an Asian American writer and the author of four poetry collections, including Oceanic (Copper Canyon Press, 2018), and a book of essays, Bite by Bite (Ecco, 2024). Her awards include the Charles Angoff Award and the Richard Hugo Prize. She is a professor of English and creative writing and lives in Oxford, Mississippi, originally the land of the Chickasaw people.

Oceanic

Oceanic
(Copper Canyon Press, 2018)

“The Future is an Animal” by Tina Chang
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“I Say the Thing for the First Time” by Adrian Matejka
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Thanks to Noʻu Revilla, author of Ask the Brindled (Milkweed Editions, 2022), who curated Poem-a-Day for this month’s weekdays. Read or listen to a Q&A about Revilla’s curatorial approach and find out more about our Guest Editors for the year.
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