Small Murders

Aimee Nezhukmatathil Click to

anezAimee Nezhukumatathil is an Asian American poet born in Chicago. The author of three poetry collections, she was educated at Ohio State and is associate professor of English at SUNY-Fredonia. Her first book, Miracle Fruit won the 2003 Tupelo Press Prize. Her second, At the Drive-In Volcano received the Balcones Poetry Prize and the most recent, Lucky Fish received the Eric Hoffer Award for Books grand prize. All three are from Tupelo Press. Nezhukumatathil has also been awarded an NEA Fellowship and a Pushcart Prize.  “Small Murders” first appeared in Shenandoah 52/1.

When Cleopatra received Antony on her cedarwood ship,
she made sure he would smell her in advance across the sea:
perfumed sails, nets sagging with rosehips and crocus
draped over her bed, her feet and hands rubbed in almond oil,
cinnamon and henna. I knew I had you when you told me

you could not live without my scent, bought pink bottles of it,
creamy lotions, a tiny vial of parfum – one drop lasted all day.
They say Napoleon told Josephine not to bathe for two weeks
so he could savor her raw scent, but hardly any mention is ever
made of their love of violets. Her signature fragrance: a special blend

of these crushed purple blooms for wrist, cleavage, earlobe.
Some expected to discover a valuable painting inside
the locket around Napoleon’s neck when he died, but found
a powder of violet petals from his wife’s grave instead. And just
yesterday, a new boy leaned in close to whisper that he loved

the smell of my perfume, the one you handpicked years ago.
I could tell her wanted to kiss me, his breath heavy and slow
against my neck. My face lit blue from the movie screen –
I said nothing, only sat up and stared straight ahead. But
By evening’s end, I let him have it: twenty-seven kisses

on my neck, twenty-seven small murders of you. And the count
is correct, I know – each sweet press one less number to weigh
heavy in the next boy’s cupped hands. Your mark on me washed
away with each kiss. The last one so cold, so filled with mist
and tiny daggers, I already smelled blood on my hands.