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Aimee Nezhukumatathil: Notes on the Invisible Kiss

What it means to be forever altered by a kiss you never saw.

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Image taken from Flickr user Gossamer1013

By Aimee Nezhukumatathil
The Kiss is a bimonthly series curated by Brian Turner.

Through wing, through vein and brittle wrist bone, how I kissed and moved with you still remain. After all this time you’d think I’d forget—already the sounds of a lost coin or click of a locket clasp I can’t recall, the first notes of an ice cream truck on your street: gone. There’s a place in Lake Superior where butterflies veer sharply when they fly over a particular spot. No one could figure why such a change, such a quick turn at that specific place—until a geologist made the connection: a mountain once rose out of the water in that exact location thousands of years ago.

These butterflies and their butterfly offspring can still remember a mass they’ve never seen. Can remember sound waves breaking just so and fly out of the way. How did they pass on this knowledge of the invisible? Perhaps this message transmits in the song they sing themselves on their first wild night, spinning inside each chrysalis. Or from the music kissed down their backs as they crack themselves open in the sun. Did milkweed whisper instructions to them as it scattered in the meadow?

And maybe that is the loneliest kind of memory: to be forever altered by an invisible kiss— something long gone and crumbled. Maybe that explains why, in the distant future, a gorgeous sound will still wound even my great-great-great-great-great grandchild—a sound she can’t quite place, can’t quite name. That sound will prick at her and prick at her. And that sap-sticky pine needle will be a chalky kiss smudging her hands with a pale color found only in the crepuscular hour of the day.

Once, when I vacationed in the Keys, I scattered my pastel treasures from the beach—coquina shells—on a windowsill before bedtime. I did not know they were still alive.

An invisible kiss is like that: what you remember won’t come from a single script or scene, but from, say, the surprise of purple quartz inside a geode. The first time I smashed one, I put it inside a sock so any shards wouldn’t slice into the dark iris of my eye. And after the first careful taps, I clobbered it, already trying to prepare myself for disappointment: a sock full of crumble. But when I slid out the pieces into my palm, I couldn’t believe my luck—the violet-rich sparkle!—and suddenly I was back in ninth-grade science class and timed quizzes to identify minerals on the Moh’s Scale of Hardness.

Everyone knew talc was the softest on the scale and everyone of course knew diamond. Hardly anyone remembered the minerals in between. But I was always drawn to quartz—I lingered over it the longest, flipped it over in my hand, even tasted it when no one was looking: like campfire smoke left in a shirt.

Once, when I vacationed in the Keys, I scattered my pastel treasures from the beach—coquina shells—on a windowsill before bedtime. I did not know they were still alive. When I woke, the tiny clams had sighed open, their tongues evaporated during the night. Who knows how many invisible kisses covered me while I slept?

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently, Lucky Fish. She is the poetry editor of Orion magazine and her poems and essays have appeared in American Poetry Review, Brevity, Poetry, Tin House, and in The Best American Poetry series. She is professor of English at The State University of New York at Fredonia and in 2016-17, she will be the Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi’s MFA program.

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