To receive a second fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts is an honor that means more than I can possibly cram into these few sentences. It means the leisure of some uninterrupted time to work on poems and projects that have been "in progress" for several years now.
It will permit me to revise and fine-tune a fifth collection of mostly lyric poems tentatively titled Chartres in the Dark. I also hope to finish Rainboat Blues, a book-length sequence of poems that I've been working on for eight years and that narrates the early history of aviation, particularly the Black Flight Movement as exemplified by such pilots as Powell and Banning, along with images from the simultaneous development of jazz and from African-American history.
Though I am moved by this recognition for what I've written in the past, the award is, even more importantly, an inspiration. It inspires me to approach the proverbial blank page with all the love, terror, and sense of play I possess and see if the words can once again change me and stain the page in such a way that others too may see the world differently, more deeply, through those words.
Joy is the jumbo
purple balloon my daughter Eleanor blows her small lungfuls
of life into, and then
throws to me, her stupid father who has forgotten
how to laugh.
The game is not to let joy touch the ground but pass
it on to someone
else--I hit it with one loose fist across the room to Michael my brother
who at forty,
with one chromosome too many and lousy fine motor coordination,
can still catch the slow
thin-skinned balloon, chortle, jerk his head, as if whiplashed
in an invisible
car crash, and toss it to our question-mark-backed father.
Dad can't remember
what day it is or where he lives, laughs and bats it on
to my mother
whose shatterproof face has crazed into a thousand
flaws. Her pacemaker
needs a new battery, but she giggles and slaps
the balloon back
to me. I'm grinning, then guffawing at our spasmodic
five people, three generations gyrating together, straining toward
a globe that glows
and floats over our heads, this weightless thing no more than a cubic foot
of breath, about to break.
(First published in the journal Crazyhorse, then reprinted on Verse Daily and in the author's collection My Father Says Grace)