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Nonfiction Feature: “When Milk Is a Memory” by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Aimee Nezhukumatathil reads “When Milk Is a Memory”



When the milk first comes it is gold. When the milk first comes it feels like a tug. When the milk first sprays across the bed, we laugh but you are scared. When the milk is too much and the baby bites you want to cry and dig your hands into your husband’s palm. When the milk spills out and soaks your shirt, the bed—you wake sour to the baby’s cry. When the milk slows because you put cold cabbage leaves in your bra, you cry. When the milk tries to flow and the baby still sniffs around your chest, you cry. When the milk goes back to the body, back to your chest and vitamins back into blood—you feel stronger than ever. The baby gets fat and smiles and all the crying stops.


When the milk is a memory you see a glass full of it and only think: bottle. When milk is a memory and your chest softens, grows smaller—you can press against your love without pausing and the baby will coo next to you in his bassinet. When the milk is a memory, every tongue and hot breath to slow near your neck just becomes a cloud of rain-precipitate and your hand an umbrella to cup all the hours of wishing for milk missing the milk teasing the milk fooling the milk and you’ve been friends and frenemies with milk and when the time comes, milk never says good-bye. And when milk gets to where he is going—he never even sends a thank you note so don’t even bother to check your mailbox for his licked flap, his cancelled stamp.


Gionni Ponce (Nonfiction Editor): “When Milk Is a Memory” explores the complicated relationship a woman may have with her body while breastfeeding. On just one page, Aimee Nezhukumatathil makes space for the milk as gold, as nuisance, as a means of bonding with baby, and as pure vitamin returned to the giver. Most importantly, I appreciate that the piece pays homage to the body’s natural abilities without losing sight of the writer’s individualized sense of self.


This piece appeared in Indiana Review 38.2 in Fall 2016.

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of four books of poetry, most recently, Oceanic (Copper Canyon Press 2018). With Ross Gay, she co-authored LACE & PYRITE, a collection of nature poems. Her book of nature essays is forthcoming with Milkweed and she is professor of English in the MFA program at the University of Mississippi.