A few months ago, I'd resigned all my jobs (I think there were four), found a tenant for my little house, and accepted my first writing residency. The Philip Roth Residence is a single semester at Bucknell University with no academic duties--the first uninterrupted time to write I've ever had. And it was delicious, productive time.
I had taken this huge gamble for the sake of my writing, for the quiet expanse of time and space from and into which I write. But, by November, I was starting to wonder how I'd heat the house and feed the dogs through the long New England winter. I was six weeks away from unemployment when the phone rang.
I haven't stopped dancing. It was the NEA. It was an enormous gift--of money, of fellowship, of time. It was a committee composed of writers whose work I revere saying welcome. It was, in these cynical times, my country standing quietly up for its artists and numbering me among them. It means heat and light through the winter. It means maybe only one job instead of four. It means time and books and conversations with writer friends and it means new poems, a chance to finish my second book. It means everything.
[Landscape with falling birds]
All the voices in the world humming in the radio waves in the wires
tangle braid and knot and not one is you trying to find me every one
is the dropped call lost before it sets tongue to bell pulse to pulse
they sing the voices in the wires in the waves in the sky I hear them
singing all the time operatic and frantic and I cannot sleep for all
the singing when I wake from not sleeping a hundred thousand birds
have fallen dead from the wires their branches if someone could gather
the dead the rain of feathers and flight would drown us all and there
would be no boat then the boat would come too late the captain
demanding a payment that payment would be stop trying to forget
remember all the time for ever the sound of his voice remember
as if it were the last light before you were blind and I would say
but wait what is a voice what is light they are uninhabitable
you cannot live there and he would say yes and he would say
remember as if it were the only perfect light so what I see is not
candle star sun incandescent neon acetylene moon no buzz hum
flicker heat is instead the scent of all that died mixed with time
and pressure poured into glass and fragile poured against a wick and lit
(First published in The Birmingham Review)
Leslie Harrison's debut book of poems, Displacement, won the 2008 Bakeless Prize in Poetry and was published by Mariner Books in July of 2009. She holds graduate degrees from The Johns Hopkins University and the University of California, Irvine. Her poems have appeared in Best of the Web and Best of the Net anthologies, The New Republic, Poetry, Memorious, Barn Owl Review, and elsewhere. She is the 2010 Philip Roth Resident in Poetry at Bucknell University, and, when not at Bucknell, makes her home in a small town in rural western Massaschusetts.
Photo © Grier Horner