Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Preoccupied with earth science since childhood, Aimee Nezhukumatathil crafts her research-based poetry using curious phenomena of the natural world. Her award-winning books of poems include Miracle Fruit, At the Drive-In Volcano, and Oceanic. Other honors include fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the National Endowment for the Arts. She serves as the poetry editor of Orion and teaches in the MFA program at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, where she lives with her husband and sons. Her essay in this issue is part of her forthcoming collection from Milkweed Editions.

Monsoon and Peacock

What monsoon can do is give you sweetness in spite of the heavy wet. Even when it rains in Kerala, India, people still ride their colorful scooters, and some even carry a friend or a love along with them. If it is a woman behind the driver, she will sit sidesaddle, wrapped in her sari or churidar. One hand grips only the padded rim of the seat for support, the other holds a black umbrella covering herself and the driver. The thwap-thwap-thwap of raindrops the size of quarters and the scooter’s engine—the only sounds worth noticing on their damp course through the village streets.

This rain is never scary, though, even during monsoon. You can tell monsoon is near when you hear a sound like someone shaking a packet of seeds in the distance. A pause—and then the roar. You know it’s coming when the butterflies—fire skippers and blue­bottles—fly in abundance over my grandmother’s cinnamon plants and suddenly vanish. A whole family of peacocks will gather up in a banyan tree, so still, as if posing for a seasonal portrait. Then the shaking sound begins.

If you could smell the wind from an ecstatic, teeny bat—if you could smell banana leaves drooping low and modest into the ruddy soil, if you could inhale clouds whirring so fast across the sky—that is what monsoon rain smells like.